Thank you very much Elizabeth. Ladies and gentleman good morning, it is wonderful to be here with you all.
Can I commence by acknowledging my dear friend, former parliamentary and cabinet colleague, and Australia’s High Commissioner in London, George Brandis.
Thank you George for your hospitality and indeed your leadership for Australia here in the UK.
Can I also acknowledge David Watson our Senior Trade Commissioner here in the UK.
But also thank you to you, Elizabeth, Dick Porter and the team from the Australia-UK Chamber of Commerce for you hospitality in hosting this morning’s event; to Charlotte and those from the Institute of Company Directors for your partnership in this event as well.
But most importantly thank you all for coming out on a brisk London morning to hear from Australia’s Trade Minister and to give me the opportunity to share some thoughts about the current circumstances that we face, as well as the opportunities in terms of the Australia-UK relationship.
It is certainly an opportune time to be visiting London in such a defining moment in history and especially in the history of the UK’s economic story.
Like much of the world Australia has been watching, watching closely, to see the various stages of Brexit unfold as the UK considers its next steps.
It is not the first time that Australia, by necessity as well as interest, has tuned in to the political and policy developments in the UK.
Our own independence, Australia’s independence, was constituted by an Act of Westminster in 1900. It too was not without controversy at the time, with some British powers seeking at that stage to present amendments to the model that had largely been agreed through various conferences and referenda across Australia.
Ultimately the will of the people prevailed in that debate, through the guidance of legislators and the advocacy of those who would go on to become Australia’s first leaders of the new nation.
Australia has proudly lived up to, and exceeded, many of those early ambitions. We look back to debates surrounding federation at the 1898 Federation Conference in Melbourne where Alfred Deakin, who would go on to be, Australia’s second Prime Minister said that the future Commonwealth of Australia;
“…will be a union, with strong foundations, set deep in justice, a union which will endure from age to age, a bulwark against aggression and a perpetual security for the peace, freedom and progress of the people of Australia.”
At this juncture, 120 years later, it is worth recalling that British trade policy played an important role in unifying the then Australian colonies towards federation.
From the 1850’s the Australian colonies had been largely free to set their own tariff rates, so long as they applied consistently to goods from anywhere, whether that was the colony next door or a nation anywhere in the world.
This manifestation of then British policy seeking to support free trade ahead of preferential trade was an irritant between the Australian colonies, who, unwilling or unable to eliminate tariffs overall, wanted to at least remove the impediments to trade between one another.
Federation ultimately delivered the elimination of tariffs between the now Australian states. It also heeded the new nation the freedom to independently set Australia’s tariff and trade policies in the future.
Fast-forward now to the modern era, Australia’s aggressive use of trade policy, and effective use of trade policy, has been instrumental to our ongoing economic success.
As Australia enters our 28th consecutive year of economic growth, we stand tall as the 13th largest global economy despite having only the 55th largest populace.
Australians enjoy a way of life that is an envy of many, which I do not need to tell those of you here at the Australian-UK Chamber of Commerce. Our influence, our global influence, reaches beyond the economic. We are, and should be proud to be, a global leader - diplomatically, culturally, in defence and other spheres.
The opening up of our economy over recent decades, with a clear embrace of liberalised markets and support for open, rules-based, international trade, has created more jobs, better paying jobs and a more prosperous Australia.
Under our Government we are implementing new trade deals, free trade agreements with China, Japan, Korea, and have brought into force the Trans Pacific Partnership. We have updated existing agreements, are at various stages of signing or implementing several new agreements, and have a full programme of live negotiations for further future free trade agreements including with the European Union.
Six years ago just 26 per cent of Australia’s total trade enjoyed preferential access into export markets under negotiated free trade agreements. Today that stands close to 70 percent and is scheduled to keep rising under agreements we have successfully negotiated.
An immediate priority is to ensure that Australian firms are well positioned to navigate both the risks and the opportunities of a post-Brexit world.
At the end of 2017-18 the UK came second only to the US as an investment partner to Australia. The UK is our second-largest tourism market and ranks among our major trading partners.
As a South Australian I am always pleased to highlight, and you are pleased to enjoy, the fact that the UK is Australia’s largest wine export market, growing by volume a further 13 percent over the last 12 month period. In fact one in five bottles of wine purchased in the UK is Australian wine. Which is impressive, but with four in five being non-Australia bottles, means there is plenty room for growth.
The UK is Australia’s third largest market for services exports and our second largest source of services imports in 2017-18.
Much of this is thanks to the hard work of people like you, the people in this room, your colleagues, your counterparts and your competitors.
Considering these extensive trade ties, our government, led by George and the skilled team at the High Commission, has been taking practical steps to ensure that the arrangements Australian businesses rely upon, can continue or transition with minimal disruption, regardless of how the Brexit policy unfolds.
For example, Australia has three agreements with the EU of significant consequence to our exports. We have actively worked with the UK Government to replicate them so that trade between the UK and Australia can continue post-Brexit.
Late last year, a new bilateral agreement for the peaceful use of nuclear energy was finalised. And last Friday our High Commissioner signed new Wine and Mutual Recognition Agreements. These agreements ensure for example, recognition of Australian wine making techniques and common testing certifications for products such as medical devices, machinery and automotive products.
But above and beyond the status quo we are working to open new opportunities for Australian exporters, businesses and farmers.
Brexit, though a matter for the UK Government to resolve, is an opportunity for our two countries to reinvigorate the bilateral relationship to ensure great cooperation and trade links and is an opportunity Australia wants to seize and seize quickly.
We moved to establish a bilateral trade working group and have been working together with the UK to realise our shared goal of a UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement through constant dialogue and scoping discussions.
Our message remains the same as it has since the referendum result was announced. The second Britain is ready, Australia stands ready to shift into formal negotiations towards an Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement.
It should be an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement, covering goods, services and investment. It should be an exemplar for open liberalised markets. It should be a modern agreement, encompassing the best of e-commerce and digital trade provisions. We should show the world how quickly yet effectively it can be negotiated, seeking to conclude and sign as rapidly as we can after March 29, and entry into force as soon as possible thereafter.
Our shared history, language and values, coupled with similar political, legal and economic systems should make these ambitions for a truly free trade agreement readily realisable.
A bilateral FTA is also an opportunity for the UK to seal its commitment to the liberal rules-based trading system at a time when it is under some stress globally; and to underline the UK’s centuries-long tradition as a force for openness in global trade.
For Australia, all of this work is complemented by our ongoing negotiations on the EU-FTA, which I look forward to progressing further in Brussels tomorrow. We are seeking an ambitious free trade agreement too, just as the UK will establish their own future EU relationship arrangements.
All of this economic and trade policy complements the very important relationship we share. Because we know that Australians don’t just visit the UK - they study, they work and build lives here, just as so many of you have, and the same applies in reverse.
The lucky ones perhaps return home for a dose of Australian sunshine around this time of year, and it is with this in mind we warmly welcome that UK decision to allow Australian passport holders to use the e-gates at UK airports late this year, something I’m sure that is welcome by many in this room.
This is a fantastic outcome long-sought by both the Government and no doubt by many of you, and we are grateful to the UK for taking this step. Let’s make it the first of many to open gates between our two nations.
I am confident that no matter the outcome or progression of Brexit, the Australia-UK bilateral relationship will continue to grow and strengthen as we continue to leverage our history to secure the brightest possible future.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to share some thoughts with you today. I look forward to the questions and the chance for an engaging session with indeed other experts in the field of trade, commerce and the ties between Australia and UK.
Thank you in particular for all that you do to ensure our relationship is so strong, so rich, so deep and is one we can have confidence of in the future.
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