Malaysia-Australia Free Trade Agreement Signing Ceremony

Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Kuala Lumpur

Speech, check against delivery

22 May 2012

Let me start by thanking my friend and colleague Mustapa Mohamed for his commitment to see this agreement through. He has been a great partner, and a great negotiator.

As I explained to Minister Mustapa when we finished our negotiations on the 30th of March, I sent a message — in fact rang — Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and her response was brief and to the point. She said: “that's fantastic”. And it did reflect a year's intense negotiations that were established with the visit of Prime Minister Najib to Australia in March of 2011, where Prime Ministers Gillard and Najib resolved to do everything possible to bring this agreement to a successful conclusion within one year.

It had been going, I think, since 2005, and both Prime Ministers, having established a very good rapport, asked me if this was possible. And I said “anything is possible — we'll try very, very hard”. We did complete those negotiations on the 30th of March 2012 — I think we had one day up our sleeve. So it's just been a process since the completion of negotiations to this historic day today of getting the approvals through our Cabinets and doing all the legal drafting that is necessary to produce final agreements.

I can report that our Government, my colleagues, were delighted with this Agreement. I think they had not fully appreciated the breadth of the Agreement that we have reached. It is obviously very liberalising in respect of market access for goods — and that's valuable, extremely valuable.

But in addition, it's liberalising for growth in international trade in services. It allows for much closer economic integration between our two economies in the areas of services, enabling Australian service industry providers to be able to take on majority ownership positions here in Malaysia.

I want to thank therefore the business community, including of course the respective business chambers who from the start have been such great supporters of this process.

Perhaps you're not fully aware how important that is, and how much we appreciate it. We always seek to do our very best as governments, but to have the business community championing this sort of agreement makes a huge difference, because you always know that when the going gets tough, you've still got the business community pushing both sides to a successful conclusion.

And I do want to take time to thank the Malaysian and Australian officials for their work in meeting this deadline set by our Prime Ministers. This, by the way, is my first Free Trade Agreement, and I'm delighted that it is with such a good friend in Malaysia, and with such an important dynamic economy in our region.

Malaysia is our tenth largest trading partner overall, and it's the third largest of the ASEAN countries. And you know that Malaysia is a country with which we share deep historic ties in defence and in education as well as in trade.

This is an Agreement that we can all be proud of. It creates effective economic integration between Australia and Malaysia. Under the Agreement, Australia will be as well-positioned in the Malaysian market as Malaysia's closest trading partner in ASEAN, and in some cases, even better than that.

Equally, Malaysia is on par with Singapore with tariff-free entry into Australia. This Agreement is a comprehensive, high-quality one — we call it a “gold standard Agreement” — which will strengthen the economic integration, not only with Malaysia, but in a sense with this, the most dynamic, rapidly growing region on Earth.

It will lock in improved access for our exporters and build on the commitments that we have both made in the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement.

And as Mustapa said, once the agreement is ratified, more than 97 per cent of imports into Malaysia from Australia will be tariff-free immediately — rising to 99 per cent from 2017. And there will be improved access in a broad range of industries — in service industries in particular — and the agreement has trade-facilitating provisions that reduce the cost of businesses that make use of the tariff regimes.

The Agreement will very much liberalise the services sector and allow Australian suppliers to hold majority ownership in education, finance, telecommunications, professional and mining service industries.

The Agreement will make it easier for business people and, importantly, for their families, to work and stay in Malaysia for longer periods. Further, it will provide for stronger protection of intellectual property rights, for business-friendly rules of origin, for guidelines for mutual recognition of qualifications, and it will promote electronic commerce.

This Agreement is really about opening up markets to each other, but in addition, Australia has agreed to provide a three-year package of up to 21 short- and long-term scholarships, fellowships, awards and exchanges to support Malaysia's economic reform efforts. And this complements existing exchanges between Australia and Malaysia on public sector and economic governance including through the Endeavour scholarships.

The Agreement will also provide for mutually-beneficial economic and technical cooperation covering the automotive industry, agriculture, tourism, clean coal technology and electronic commerce. An important feature of this improved cooperation has already been achieved with the signing today of a Memorandum of Understanding between Australia's Cooperative Research Centre for Advanced Automotive Technology and the Malaysian Automotive Institute.

This Memorandum of Understanding between the two bodies is a first step in a greater collaboration between the Malaysian and Australian automotive industries that the Agreement should promote. It will strengthen the economic relationship and reinforce the already strong bilateral relationship. It will provide further impetus for Australia and Malaysia to work together in regional trade negotiations including the Trans-Pacific Partnership — where we are both members.

Above all, what this Agreement does is provide tangible recognition of the strength of our two economies, of the commitment we both have to trade liberalisation, and of the future we share in our dynamic region.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm delighted to be able to commend this Agreement to you.

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