Thank you very much Michaela.
Can I acknowledge Greg [So]. It’s so good to be here with you Greg, as Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development here in Hong Kong. It’s an absolute pleasure.
I’ll go into more detail for everyone in the room, but we’ve been talking about this for a little while. I’m so pleased that we’ve been able to come together, so I want to particularly acknowledge your presence here this morning.
Our Consul-General, Michaela [Browning], it’s good to see you, it’s great to have you here. It’s a good way to start off a post - two-weeks in - with the launch of Free Trade Agreement negotiations. The bad news is it can only go downhill from here. [audience laughs] It’s great to be able to officially have this event as one of the very first things you are doing in the role.
Can I thank Richard [Petty, AustCham Hong Kong Chairman] and Stephen [Ng, HK General Chamber of Commerce Vice Chairman] and more broadly, the other chambers as well. Being able to convene through the chambers is such an important milestone in terms of the commencement of Free Trade Agreement negotiations and seems appropriate because at the core of these agreements is of course, our commitment to making sure that we can enable the wheels of commerce between Hong Kong and Australia to function. To all of you and to other distinguished guests, a very warm welcome. Good morning, and I think that today is a very important day.
When it comes to Australia’s engagement with Asia, our story has been one that’s changed over time. For the expat Aussies that are in the room, you’ve known what for some Australians has only been a recent revelation. If you look at it historically, Australia’s view on the world, we thought for so long that we were a European outpost in the wrong part of the world. It’s really only been in the past couple of decades that the true significance and the absolute benefit that flows from Australia being, not only located in this part of the world but even more importantly than our location, is our engagement with this part of the world; the fastest growing region in the world.
In many respects what we’ve come to realise over the years, and what many of you as expat Australians already know, is that our ability to integrate with Asia and the shared views that we have about the importance of trade, of open markets, of being able to see the flow of capital between countries, is fundamental to ensuring brighter and stronger economic days ahead.
So, in that vein, I’m so pleased that Greg and I over the past fifteen or so months, since I came into the role following my predecessor Andrew Robb, have been able to move actually quite quickly towards the formal establishment of negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement.
People have said to me: “what does Australia stand to gain; Hong Kong already has zero tariffs when it comes to goods going into Hong Kong”. And I say: well that’s true - but that’s to look at the old, historic relationship because when you look at the future relationship, the real driver will be around services.
Hong Kong knows the value of services, like Australia knows the value of services. Seventy-six per cent of the Australian economy is built on services. Twenty-two per cent of our exports are services exports. It’s the disparity between those two numbers that represents the real opportunity that exists in terms of an agreement like this.
The other comment that we hear, frankly too often these days, is this notion that it’s a zero-sum game. That what one country must gain, another country must lose. To believe that is to fundamentally misunderstand the value of doing trade deals.
The real benefit that flows from a comprehensive modern free trade agreement that we hope to conclude between Australia and Hong Kong, will be a true win-win outcome: a benefit for Hong Kong and a benefit for Australia. Opportunities to collaborate on a whole host of different areas; opportunities to leverage off each other’s areas of expertise and specialisation and experience and knowledge, that we can use in a collaborative way to ensure that both Hong Kong and Australia are able to go from strength to strength.
That’s the discussions that Greg and I have been having over the past several months. That is what is at the core of our desire to drive a modern and comprehensive Free Trade Agreement between Hong Kong and Australia.
Greg and I had dinner last night. It came off the back of us having spent the day together in Beijing around the Belt and Road Initiative Forum that took place. We recognise that this is a region laden with opportunity. We hope to be able to capture that opportunity by the barriers that we’ll be able to break-down through this Free Trade Agreement. There’re areas, for example, in relation to infrastructure where Australia has a deep and rich history when it comes to financing, but even more so with respect to design and construction infrastructure. Hong Kong, of course, is on a global level, a player when it comes to the deep and broad capital pools that are available here. It makes sense that, in time, we might be able to look at opportunities for collaboration.
The Belt and Road Initiative will be a very significant initiative in our region. Very significant. Hong Kong’s opportunity, and I know through Greg’s leadership and more broadly of the Executive, will help to drive Hong Kong to be able to play a key role in the BRI. Likewise, in time Australia will also be looking to play a key role with respect to BRI and that’s part of the reason why I wanted to make sure that we have a seat at the table when it came to the BRI forum that took place on Sunday.
To all of you, can I also thank you in advance. Through the chambers, your involvement and engagement with our negotiators, your contributions, insights, comments about what we should be trying to achieve through these negotiations, will be critical to helping shape what it is that we want to do. We’ve both said to our negotiators that we have a very high-level of ambition about this FTA. We want a comprehensive FTA. We want it to be ambitious. We want it to be done quickly.
Having set that small hurdle, we expect them now to be able to deliver on our expectations to negotiate a good deal. We’ll put our shoulders to the wheel as well.
Ultimately all of you as representatives of the chambers, as members of the chambers, as those who actually create wealth and generate wealth across economies which ultimately helps to drive employment, it’ll fall upon you to do what you can to maximise your potential. We just hope that we’ll be able to negotiate an agreement that pulls down regulatory barriers that makes it easier for you to achieve the success that we want you to achive.
With those few remarks, Greg, I’m so pleased that we’ve been able to come together to launch these Free Trade Agreement negotiations. I’m sure they’re going to be very constructive and, ultimately, I’m sure they’re going to be very fruitful for both Hong Kong and Australia. So thank you.
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