Can I start by acknowledging my fellow panelists today:
- Sir Rod Eddington AO, Australian ABAC Member;
- Richard Grupetta, Director Asia Practice, PwC; and
- Kip Hanna, the Head of Super Regional Business Development at ANZ
Ladies and gentleman, distinguished delegates.
I am delighted to be here today representing the Abbott Government.
Australia has had a long and proud history with APEC from its inception.
Indeed, APEC has been a key forum for helping to drive regional economic reform for three decades.
And that drive is important because governments, like businesses, must avoid complacency.
Australia is the world’s 12th largest economy and we have now enjoyed 24 years of continuous economic growth.
We enjoy a standard of living, and lifestyle, that is the envy of the world.
But to keep this standard of living we must continue to build the conditions for growth, particularly during times of uncertainty.
Whether it be supporting small businesses by cutting taxes and red tape; or focusing our diplomatic network on trade and economic opportunities, the Coalition has put economic growth at the heart of our policy agenda.
When the Coalition first came to office, Prime Minister Abbott declared Australia was ‘open for business’.
In Government we have embarked on further domestic economic reform to drive productivity growth and boost the international competitiveness of our industries.
But, arguably, strengthening trade links and attracting foreign investment has been the pinnacle of our economic achievements. Trade promotes growth, raises incomes and creates jobs.
Foreign investment has spurred competition and productivity growth; and helped connect businesses to global and regional value chains.
The importance our Government attaches to investment is reflected by the fact Andrew Robb is the first Trade and Investment Minister the country has ever had.
As many of you know, Minister Robb is particularly focused on the services sector.
After all, the services sector accounts for almost three-quarters of Australia’s GDP and is central to our future prosperity.
As a number of Asian economies evolve beyond manufacturing and construction in the years ahead, services will be a stronger source of growth for our region.
That’s why Australia is pursuing such an ambitious services trade liberalisation and reform agenda.
It is vital we reduce the barriers to trade in services, which are broad and complex.
In APEC, Australia has taken a leading role in advancing structural reform and is helping developing economies promote more open, well-functioning, competitive and transparent markets.
Next month, I will represent Australia at the APEC Structural Reform Ministerial Meeting in the Philippines.
Australia is leading work to advance APEC’s structural reform agenda, including the drafting of APEC’s structural reform strategy for 2016-2020.
Our priority is to ensure the post-2015 structural reform strategy is robust and ambitious, especially in areas such as competition policy, cutting ‘red tape’, labour market reform, and infrastructure development.
These reforms will make a real difference to businesses in our region.
Importantly, Australia is working with other APEC members and the Business Advisory Council to develop an ambitious forward agenda on services trade liberalisation.
In a sector that is diverse, complex and always changing, Australia has a global competitive advantage in professional services.
Australian expertise in accounting, law, human resources, and architecture is being utilised across the region – from Chile to China.
In the mining sector, we have well developed professional services industries such as engineering and environmental management.
The Free Trade Agreements we have secured with China, Korea, and Japan have set the foundations for the next phase of our economic relationships.
In our Agreement with China, Australia secured commitments on commercial association between law firms that make it easier for lawyers to move between both countries.
Australian architectural and urban planning firms operating in China will now be able to obtain more expansive business licences to undertake higher-value projects.
Under the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement, Australian professionals will benefit from ongoing work to enhance mutual recognition of professional qualifications and guaranteed visa access arrangements.
In April, I witnessed the signing of a mutual recognition agreement between Engineers Australia and the Korean Government.
This will enhance professional recognition of Australian engineers in Korea and facilitate closer collaboration in international markets.
Our Agreement with Japan secures outcomes that are equal to, or better than, the best commitments Japan has given any trading partner.
It is worth me highlighting at this point that the Labor Opposition has announced they will rip up and try to renegotiate our Free Trade Agreements with China and Korea, and others, because they contain provisions for what’s known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS.
As many of you will know, ISDS gives investors a way to settle disputes over a number of specific matters listed in a trade agreement – if an investor is discriminated against just because they are foreign, or if a government nationalises their company, for example.
We still retain our right to change laws, regulations and policies and ISDS cannot determine Australian domestic law.
So unless Bill Shorten is planning to nationalise a few overseas companies it’s hard to see why he’s so worked up about ISDS.
Nonetheless, the hard-fought services access Australia has from these bilateral agreements would be at risk should Labor win the next election.
On the multilateral front, the Government is also pushing hard for a successful conclusion to the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.
I know the completion of the TPP has been a high priority for APEC Business Advisory Council members.
The TPP would cover about 40 per cent of the world economy and represent the most significant restatement and enhancement of trade policy rules since the mid-1990s.
Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb and other TPP Ministers made significant progress in Hawaii recently.
Unfortunately, a handful of outstanding issues unrelated to services trade prevented the deal from closing.
The TPP offers the prospect of significant liberalisation for the benefit of our world class professional services exporters.
Australian exports of professional, technical and other business services to TPP countries were valued at $4.7 billion in 2014.
The Government is also participating in other FTA negotiations to further open markets for Australian service providers, including a bilateral FTA with India.
We are negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with ASEAN, plus China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand.
Australia is also the lead proponent of an ambitious Professional Services Annex in plurilateral Trade in Services Agreement – TiSA – negotiations.
TiSA involves 52 countries, many of which are key markets for Australian professional services firms.
In Paris just two months ago I co-chaired, along with US Ambassador Punke and EU Commissioner Malmström, a ministerial meeting on TiSA to shift the negotiations into a more decisive phase.
We are hoping this agreement will facilitate recognition of qualifications so that our professionals, such as educators, accountants and lawyers, can operate more freely across TiSA countries.
We want an ambitious agreement that would raise levels of openness among existing TiSA Parties as well as provide a benchmark for future multilateral negotiations on services.
APEC has at its core the primary goal of facilitating economic growth and prosperity in our region.
The services sector, and particularly professional services, will be central to the competitiveness of the region’s economy in the years ahead.
APEC provides the perfect platform to enable us to build the foundations for the economic future of the entire region.
Let’s work together to remove the barriers to trade in services that are holding businesses back.
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