Address to the 51st Australian Export Awards

Speech, check against delivery

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

26 November 2013

Welcome all to what is truly the 'night of nights' on our nation's trade and export calendar.

It's a great privilege to be here to recognise, and to celebrate, the achievements of Australia's top exporters at these the 51st Australian Export Awards.

I am also particularly honoured that the Prime Minister Tony Abbott has made the time to join us tonight.

It is the first time a Prime Minister has graced us with their presence since 2008.

This underscores the Prime Minister's commitment to both Australian business and the vital role of trade in helping to drive sustainable growth and prosperity.

The Prime Minister's strong support for the ambitious trade agenda we are currently pursuing is also most welcome and sends a very strong signal – a signal that we are indeed 'open for business'.

Tonight's 76 finalists are of course making a very substantial contribution to our economy, 76 finalists among 2.4 million businesses in Australia.

Between them they have generated export earnings in excess of AUD $9 billion and employed more than 22,000 people in the past financial year.

A remarkable report card.

To me, recognising achievement is so important across all walks of life.

We need to take time to celebrate success and achievement because success is invariably very hard won. And at times when things don't go so well, we draw strength from such achievements.

That is why tonight is so important.

So all of tonight's finalists should give yourself a pat on the back. It's like a Melbourne Cup – no-one can ever take tonight's recognition from you.

Celebrating our success stories also serves as inspiration to other business people and entrepreneurs to follow in your footsteps. You are all role models in our community and within our business sector.

Ladies and gentlemen, in my view, the next 3 or 4 decades can be quite spectacular for our country. But only if we recognise the emerging opportunities and position ourselves to take full advantage.

Today, there are around 500 million people in the region's middle class, yet by 2030 that figure is expected to reach a staggering 3.2 billion.

This will be the century of food and water security and we are extremely well placed to capitalise on this.

High-value niche markets to our north will resemble mass markets to Australian exporters.

I have a friend who is selling mangoes into Shanghai for $30 each. This is not to say we are going to have a mango-led recovery, but it's an indication of the opportunity.

Within the next five years the Asia Pacific region will be the world's largest producer and consumer of goods and services.

By backing our strengths, Australian exporters are extremely well placed to capitalise on this unprecedented opportunity.

Mining and resources, food and agriculture, education, health and medical research and tourism and hospitality are things we do as well as any, and better than most. These are our strengths.

Additionally, we have an excellent reputation across a multitude of services which in many cases have evolved and cluster around our core strengths, including high-end manufacturing.

These services are in big demand and include financial, legal and engineering services, architecture, logistics, trade skills, health care, education and other vocational services, and aged care through to project and events management.

With an economy that is almost 80 per cent services, the export of such services will be a big part of our future.

The implications of the rise of Asia appear well understood by our finalists here tonight, when you consider that nearly 70 per cent of our finalists indicated they export to Asia.

We still need however to move quickly to understand the opportunities presented to us in Asia, including how to access complex supply chains, technology advances and investment opportunities.

And we also need to recognise that new markets are opening up in the emerging economies of Latin America, India and Africa.

The Australian government remains committed to providing strong levels of support to Australian exporters, through the highly regarded Export Market Development Grants, access to credit, regular trade missions and other assistance provided through Austrade.

The Free Trade deals we are seeking to conclude with our major trading partners in China, Japan and South Korea, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and the Trade in Services Agreement are among a range of negotiations that will make our existing exporters more competitive and open up new opportunities in various areas of these markets, including services.

For example, if the TPP, involving 12 nations, goes ahead it would create a market with a combined GDP of US$28 trillion and a population of almost 800 million people.

As a government we are also determined to do what we can domestically to make our exporters more cost competitive.

This starts by abolishing unnecessary taxes such as the carbon and mining taxes, by cutting the cost of regulation by $1 billion per year and by streamlining environmental approval processes.

Again, the Prime Minister has been very supportive of the work my colleagues and I did in Opposition to pursue the development of Northern Australia.

A White Paper is now being prepared which will explore how the North can best capitalise on the opportunities I mentioned earlier.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, a key part of my job is promoting 'Brand Australia' to the world and identifying new trade and investment opportunities.

Thanks to you all, our export success stories give me plenty of great material to work with when I travel abroad.

In that regard, I'd like to warmly congratulate all 76 finalists who have done so much to make our nation's exporting culture a real force in the national economy.

Getting here was a great achievement in itself.

And for those winners announced here tonight – the best of the best – you will be fully deserving of the accompanying prestige.

An extraordinary effort goes in to the organisation of events such as tonight and to everyone that has contributed, especially to ACCI and Austrade, thank you.

Without further ado, I invite my friend and colleague, the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Tony Abbott, to the stage, and thank him sincerely for his participation.

Thank you all and enjoy your evening.

Media enquiries

  • Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555