THERE is a golden opportunity for Cairns to leverage its reputation as a world-renowned tourist destination to win more than its fair share of Asia Pacific’s exploding middle class.

If we look at China alone, last year, 100 million Chinese travelled abroad yet by 2020, that figure is expected to double.

This enormous scale of demand presents incredible opportunities but also real challenges such as the ongoing need for major investment in quality tourism infrastructure – hotels, integrated resorts and other attractions – to help cater for increasingly discerning visitors.

As the minister responsible for tourism, these were among issues discussed during my recent visit to Cairns when I joined my parliamentary colleague Warren Entsch in meetings with tourism and hospitality industry representatives.

Harnessing our tourism potential along with our other areas of strength such as food and agribusiness aligns with the Federal Government’s trade and investment agenda. Already we have concluded Free Trade Agreements with Korea, Japan and China and we are one of 12 countries negotiating what would be the world’s largest regional trade deal – the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement or TPP.

TPP countries collectively represent 40 per cent of global GDP – or about $28 trillion – as well as 800 million people and after seven years of negotiations the end is within reach. The key aim of the TPP is to establish a more seamless trade and investment environment across the region, which means the smoother flow of goods, services, capital and people.

The TPP will create new market access opportunities for tourism and hospitality and provide greater certainty to service suppliers and investors in these sectors which represent Australia’s biggest services export worth $30 billion. It also directly and indirectly employs 1 million Australians, including large numbers in regional areas.

Along with tourism and hospitality, agriculture is also a crucial industry for communities in the far north. There are enormous growth opportunities for us at the premium end of markets across the Asia Pacific on account of our reputation for “clean, green and safe” produce.

Modelling conducted by the US Department for Agriculture shows Australian exporters would be the biggest beneficiary of all 12 countries under the TPP.

By 2025, the TPP could add US$2.6 billion extra to the annual value of our agricultural exports – an increase of more than 19 per cent. This would include $1.6 billion extra for our meat exports, $357 million for dairy, $161 million for cereals and $485 million extra across a range of other agriculture and horticulture.

When you add these gains to the benefits that will flow from the powerful trifecta of North Asia agreements mentioned earlier, there is cause for real optimism around Australian agriculture.

Despite this, there are anti-trade groups which are trying to undermine TPP negotiations with overblown claims about secrecy and lack of transparency.

Of course there is a degree of confidentiality around the negotiations, as there is with any commercial negotiation, but there is also extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders throughout.

This consultation is invaluable in both informing and guiding our approach to what are typically complex issues. There have, in fact, been more than 1000 TPP consultations since 2011 and these continue.

Finally, the TPP text will not be kept secret. Once it is agreed between parties, it will be made public and also subjected to extensive scrutiny and inquiry before implementing legislation is considered and voted on by the parliament.

Agreements such as the TPP are about creating new opportunities for growth, jobs and higher living standards, which is a good thing for both Australia and important regional centres like Cairns.

Media enquiries

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