• Speech, check against delivery
Topics: ABAC and APEC; Engagement with Asia Pacific Region
12 February 2020

Andrew Parker: Our speaker this evening, the Honourable Simon Birmingham who is our Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. I’d also just like — before we start — to acknowledge Minister Birmingham has had to make some pretty serious accommodations in his busy schedule to be with us here this evening and I think that just underlines for everybody here the importance that Australia places on the institution of APEC and the work that ABAC does in support of that institution in advancing our shared interests in the region. Ladies and gentlemen, Minister Simon Birmingham.


Simon Bimingham: Thank you very much Andrew for that welcome and thank you to you and to PWC for your hosting of this evening and to you personally, Andrew, for your leadership in relation to Australia’s thought and policy in regards to engagement with the Asia-Pacific region.  And for your work, in particular at present, with the Business Council of Australia on the Asia Taskforce that they have set up, an example of our business community leading in terms of its engagement right across our region and particularly in our economic policy settings.

Can I begin by thanking Matthew for his welcome to country and acknowledge the peoples of the Eora Nation and all of Australia’s Indigenous peoples; our First Australians. And in a fora like this, as Australia’s Trade Minister, acknowledge also our first traders. Early this week, we were delighted to host President Widodo in Canberra on a visit from Indonesia and I acknowledge our Indonesian delegates who are here today. And in doing so, we sealed the final stages of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. And in thinking about Australia-Indonesia relations, I looked back and found some significance in the humble sea cucumber — sea cucumber you may wonder. But the sea cucumber was notable because indeed hundreds of years ago, well before Westerners came to Australia, our First Australians, our Indigenous peoples, aided the Makassans from Indonesia in their collection of sea cucumbers which were then traded on to China in the ancient trade routes of the day. And it’s a reminder that, though today as we talk about the impact of globalisation, in some ways, we’ve been at it for a very, very long period of time and that trading is as old as civilisation. And it’s just that the means in which we do so and sophistication we apply may differ dramatically today and provide greater reach and scope. But the values that underpin those economic relations and those trade relations should remain the same; values that ensure an outcome that is mutually beneficial and that help of course to achieve the optimum, maximum economic benefits that spread into benefits in peoples’ lives and livelihoods.

And that’s where APEC stands particularly tall as a representative body for the region but in our modern times, trade and economic liberalisation stands out. Stands out as the region that is the easiest example to give as to why opening up economies, liberalising markets, encouraging trade is a good thing. Because in this region, the region covered by the APEC economies, over recent decades, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. They’ve not been lifted out of poverty purely by government action or intervention; they’ve been lifted out of poverty by the generation of wealth; thanks to commerce and business activity facilitated by trading relations. And in being lifted out of poverty, it’s made a tangible difference to the lives of many.

Across our region, people live longer nowadays than they used to. Across our region, there are more opportunities in terms of educational opportunities, there’s a greater degree of lifestyle, there are better healthcare services, there are more opportunities in equality for women, minorities, for others to be able to succeed and enjoy the benefits of more open economies. And it’s keeping a focus on those very human benefits to the lives of people that is so essential of what we must do when talking about trade, trade partnerships and economies.

Australia values APEC, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Emphasis on the fact that it’s about economic cooperation but knowing that that drives and facilitates cooperation in so many other ways. And we value the fact that the APEC Business Advisory Council helps to provide not just for better policy and political outcomes when the governments of APEC come together, but also helps to provide and facilitate better engagement across business and commerce throughout the countries of the APEC region.

And can I acknowledge Dato Rohana, our Chair — and what a magnificent job indeed, I am told you are doing.


And thank you for guiding this entity in this year — Malaysia’s year of chairing APEC. Thank you for choosing to host this first gathering of ABAC here in Australia in Sydney. We are pleased to assist you in doing so and hope that our approach to policy, to trade, engagement across the business community helps to provide greater value to the outcomes that I’m sure will be strong under Malaysia’s chairmanship this year.

We have been steadfast partners for over 30 years in terms of the work that’s being undertaken and in that it’s taken a lot of other engagement from those who help to drive the thought and policy and that helps entities like APEC and ABAC to thrive and survive. And can I acknowledge Craig Emerson, distinguished predecessor of mine in the trade portfolio in government, the previous government of Australia, and acknowledge your work now in terms of chairing the Australia APEC Study Centre and helping to drive the type of thought and policies that will help see us through some challenging times. And we know a bit about challenging times and even APEC knows a little bit about challenging times. I want to acknowledge the delegation from Chile who are here, who last year worked so hard in terms of driving policy through, as you heard from Andrew, some really difficult global debates, particularly in terms of trade policy. Yet Chile managed to chart a steady course. Unfortunately, in terms of the final outcomes of that year, to be blown off course by domestic circumstances. Our thoughts are with the Chilean people in terms of working through those domestic issues but in particular our thanks to Chile for your continued leadership and engagement.

Yes, here in Australia we’ve had some issues over recent months as well as were alluded to, and I want to thank many of you, the outpouring of offers and help and hope from across our friends in the region as Australia faced bushfires this summer, were wonderful and we are grateful for the assistance provided. But as Australia’s Tourism Minister as well as our Trade Minister, I would say that the best thing you could do now is to think about where you’re going to take a holiday next, and ideally to book it somewhere within Australia and bring lots of family and friends with you please.

Unidentified speaker: Oh yes.

Simon Birmingham: Excellent. But our country is not the only one whose tourism and travel industry is doing it tough at present and when we talk about challenging circumstances — coronavirus is having an impact right across our region. Our thoughts also go to our Chinese delegates who are unable to be here today. But I’m pleased to hear are being accommodated to participate in other means and we do hope and trust that circumstances will allow their full participation throughout the rest of this year and that by working together across the world through the World Health Organization, we are be able to overcome the challenges that we see in relation to coronavirus.

Australia is proud to have played a role in the establishment of APEC thirty years ago. It was a decision that recognized, as I said, this region as being at the forefront of global growth. And it’s a shared interest that help to bring down barriers between our economies and therefore, between our communities. And that’s what helps to make sure that it’s easier for all of you to be able to do business and for your counterparts across your different nations. As you would all be aware this is a notable year for APEC, for Bogor Goals, to achieve free and open trade and investment, which expire this year. And while significant progress has been made over the last 26 years since these goals were set by leaders in Indonesia in 1994, there is still much unfinished business. The theme of the Bogor Goals, free and open trade and investment, must remain integral to the post-2020 vision that is set by APEC. Much is to be done to still realise the ultimate objective of free trade and market access across the Asia-Pacific. We’ve had some wonderful building blocks put in place, especially recently; the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, provide large regional agreements that sit alongside more established ones such as AANZFTA and a range of bilateral agreements now across APEC economies. These give us the building blocks for enhanced regional cooperation and integration across value chains and supply chains of our businesses and economies. APEC members’ ideas and input will be so influential in forming this post-2020 Vision. You’re all best placed to help to guide governments in terms of what barriers we must focus on addressing, what regulatory issues we must prioritise, how to tackle the difficult and challenging emerging issues of our time. And whether our efforts are being successful or not.

Substantial interest and engagement from the business community across all member economies is essential towards achieving this. Australia’s role as an APEC champion on mutual recognition and professional services is one such area where we seek to help to progress mobility for key professionals, to help drive trade and investment decisions across our APEC region. And I was pleased that earlier this week we were able to host a workshop in Malaysia to help to advance that mutual recognition agenda. There will be many other issues that will be front and centre, no doubt, in your consideration including the continued challenges faced by the World Trade Organization.

2020 is a notable year for the WTO as the twelfth Ministerial Conference of the WTO comes around. Without a well-functioning WTO with a respected set of global rules and an independent umpire to adjudicate on disputes, we will see protectionism continue to creep back in. That will serve nobody’s interests. APEC a key forum in which we can and do bolster support for the WTO as a whole, as well as individual issues under negotiation. When that Ministerial Council meeting happens in June of this year, I want to see us make some concrete progress: to conclude multilateral fisheries subsidies negotiations which have come so far and are so close and can provide a tangible example of the WTO being able to still reach a multilateral agreement in relation to rules making.

I want to see us able to advance, ideally conclude, plurilateral negotiations in a number of areas, particularly in terms of services domestic regulation which I know ABAC supports keenly and where we hope to be able to conclude with some 52 other nations at the WTO. On e-commerce, which Australia has been pleased to lead with our friends from Japan and Singapore in starting and driving negotiations for WTO rules that can facilitate free trade through modern platforms of e-commerce. Again we won’t conclude them this year, but I certainly hope we can point to tangible, meaningful progress. Importantly we hope to see ongoing work or restarted work in relation to agricultural reforms, domestic subsidies around agricultural work and I was pleased that Australia was able to bring together for the first time in some years the members of the Cairns Group to once again start that combined effort to work towards real work, real reform in terms of those agricultural subsidies.

And of course the WTO itself needs some modernising; its own rules and functions and particularly the decisions on the appellate body impasse are a real problem in terms of its operability, in terms of the functions of its dispute settlement provisions.  Your continued advocacy that all of the functions of the WTO — the rule-making functions, the transparency and accountability functions and ultimately the dispute settlement resolution functions — need to be preserved and enhanced is important to carry momentum towards that. APEC helps us deal with the difficult and challenging issues of our time as well. I note in the priorities that were set last year the work that ABAC did in terms of the focus on climate change policies. And this must continue to be a real feature for economic cooperation across our region and the world. It is through breakthroughs in technology and policy that will enable us to tackle the challenges we face on climate change.

Australia is proud to share technology where we can, to be a country that has world-leading levels of per capita investment in renewable energy. To at present be investing and developing the largest energy storage projects across the southern hemisphere. To be working in terms of new national hydrogen strategies and to be pursuing implementation of those in partnership with a number of countries represented here and others who are looking to step up investment in terms of the potential of the new hydrogen economy. It will only be through the type of technologies that can drive down the cost of transformation that not only do countries like Australia transition to a lower emissions platform, but importantly all nations across the APEC region and the world are able to do so.  And business’s role in helping to drive that innovation agenda and the adaption of those new technologies is crucial.

I note in welcoming particularly Malaysia’s focus on inclusivity as part of its host year as well and welcome the considerable focus that Australia has that we can bring to bear there in helping across our trade, foreign and development policy efforts. Specifically, the work on women’s economic empowerment is an important priority that ABAC has, APEC has and that Australia is proud to share.

So can I in closing thank you. It is a big agenda. The big agenda for ABAC, in helping to drive APEC, in helping to shape our globe and world, and we are proud that we’re able to help host these discussions here and that our Australian delegates are well-placed to help guide you and participate in these discussions and I can assure you that Australia’s active engagement in APEC is as strong as ever and that we look forward to working with all of you to get the best outcomes for business because we know that they will be the best outcomes to continue to provide the type of prosperity and opportunity that we want for all our peoples. Thanks so very much, pleasure to be with you.