FTA Seminar, Hobart

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia’s free trade agreements and their benefits for businesses.
06 December 2019

Mark Coulton, Minister for Regional Services, Decentralisation and Local Government and Assistant Trade and Investment Minister:

I believe this is my third free trade seminar in Tasmania and we’re doing another one on Monday in Smithton. So certainly it's great to be here. Yes, I’ve probably got the longest title in Canberra. And apart from having an electorate that’s half of New South Wales that’s been in drought for many years, I don't know when it was- 2012 (when on rained), basically, with one year’s grace in between. And also regional services is regional telecommunications, regional health, regional education, local- and I’ve then got local government, and so in all those things, you know, doctors to the bush, mobile phone black spots, NBN roll-out, I mean what could possibly go wrong? But- and my electorate is- oh, we worked out the other day, is five and half times the size of Tasmania and it looks nothing like Tasmania at the moment. But it’s certainly great to be here.

One of the really exciting parts of my job is the role I have in trade, and over the last couple of years I've been involved in negotiations with RCEP — which is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership — which we're nearly there, probably a year away from signing, which is the ASEAN- ten ASEAN countries to our north — China, Korea, Japan. It was to be India. I still hope it could be. Everyone's looking at India: 1.3 billion people, not far from us with a vastly growing middle class. India is the nut that everyone wants to crack, nut there’s also- well, they have some significant issues when it comes to dealing with trade, particularly if we’re in the agriculture sector. You know, I've been over to India and I've- we’ve got some issues with pulses which are grown in our part of the world. And you know, in my part of the world, they deliver chickpeas in road trains. In India, they deliver chickpeas in wheelbarrows. And each of those farmers who delivers their chickpeas in a wheelbarrow has a vote in India. And so the ag- the ag lobby in India is very, very strong. And so you know there's some work to do in that space.

But I'm really pleased to see so many people here today. It’s- today's seminar is part of the Australian Government's commitment to build business awareness and the use of our expanding networks of free trade agreements. And I think that's the main thing that comes out of today, look for someone that works for Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or Austrade, they are the people that you need to be taking their business card and forming a relationship with because we have a wonderful network all over the country. And you can also learn today about the works that we’re doing to negotiate new free trade agreements, and only last week in Parliament we finally ratified the free trade agreements with Hong Kong, Indonesia and Peru, and all different but great opportunities. You know, Indonesia, 265 million people. Ten minutes [indistinct] from northern Australia to Indonesia. They’re our closest neighbours. Great opportunities there.

But generally at these — and I think we're up to about 127 free trade seminars we’ve held, Christina?

Christina Murphy, Austrade:

This is 131.

MARK COULTON:

I missed a couple.

I’ve done a fair few of them, but I can tell you the high level of all of them and I'm sure today will be no different. It’s the local business that will come out and speak about their exporting journey and today, we've just been sitting with Sam, coming from Sullivans Cove distillery and obviously, whisky making, spirit distilling in Tasmania is becoming such a big thing. He’ll give his first-hand experience on exporting and taking advantages of the FTAs.

So, ladies and gentlemen, we have 11 free trade agreements in force with 18 countries. These free trade agreements are already delivering significant benefits for the Australian businesses, including businesses based in Hobart and surrounding area.

There have been some major FTA wins in Australia the past 12 to 24 months, and the comprehensive- don’t you just love these names? I tell people that there's a big building in Canberra, about 10 stories high, chock-a-block full of people and their job is to invent acronyms. And then you have to learn them. I have five ministries I deal with and they’ve all got acronyms, but anyway, the CPTPP-11, which is like TPP-11 except- which is 11 countries around the Pacific. It would have been 12, but remember President Trump removed the United States, one of the first things when he got elected. That is probably the gold standard of free trade agreements around the world.

So some of the agreements that we already had with you know, Japan, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has trumped it, we're actually getting better deals now this year than we were even after we signed the free trade agreement.

You know, in my 12 years, I'll never forget the honour of representing Australia in Tokyo earlier this year for the first ministerial meeting of those 11 countries.

For the first time, we’ve got agreements with Canada, Mexico and I think Colombia is one of them in the TPP-11, and there are great opportunities because as that — the order of things in North America is not quite the same as it was a few years ago.

The Canadians and the Mexicans are looking further afield. That reliance that they had on the United States is not quite as solid as they thought it was and that Mexico is a very fast growing economy. I think they make more- I think they make more TVs in Mexico than they do in China from memory; it is a massive manufacturing country.

I’ve spoken briefly about the other free trade agreements were signed this week and they’ll all come into play early next year. I guess one of the things that people are interested in is the EU and we're in the process of negotiating an FTA with the EU.

It's always a pretty tough gig, dealing with the Europeans and so we have had a very good team of negotiators there. There are, I think, some sensitivities probably in this room with regards to geographic indicators. I know there are in Victoria, and so that is an important negotiation we have to have.

At the moment, 70 per cent of our trade is covered by FTAs. We're hoping within a couple of years we'll get that to 90 per cent and so the other one we're looking at is Britain and if anyone can tell me which way that's going to fall after the election, I'd like to know but there's a couple of different theories going on.

If there's a hard Brexit, then obviously, we need to be in there very quickly because a lot of our product that goes into Europe goes through Britain, if not the product, certainly the paperwork does and so we need to be there.

I heard a theory the other day that — this is not government policy, this is gossip — but if Boris Johnson wins with a massive majority, maybe the Europeans will treat him with a bit more respect and it mightn't be quite as crazy as people are fearing. There might be a negotiated deal that will not be quite as damaging to trade.

But that's something that we're all watching very, very closely because there's great opportunities obviously in that part of the world for us.

So look, enjoy today. I think it's an exciting time. I absolutely love Tasmania; I've been here a few times for work. Normally, I'd come in one night and go out the next morning but we're actually spending a few days here this time. We’re going to Tassal tomorrow to watch them monitor and feed fish with a computer.

Now Australia's advantage in trade is that we're an island a long way from anywhere. Tasmania’s advantage in trade is that they’re an island a longer way from anywhere and gives you wonderful opportunities that differentiate to define your product as being so special. When I was in Tokyo in January seeing the Australian product on the supermarket shelves in Tokyo was dominated by Tassie product and identified as Tasmanian product and so that's you know, a wonderful advantage that you have. Enjoy today and I'm certainly looking forward to the next couple of days.

Thank you very much.

Media enquiries

  • Minister Coulton’s office: Steph Nicholls +61 417 314 920
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555