Canberra Networking Day Comes of Age

A record number of participants joined this year’s Australia China Business Council annual networking day in Canberra writes John Crone.

In March, more than 150 ACBC members from across Australia and others from national and state organizations with an interest in the Australia-China economic relationship, gathered at the new Parliament House building for the ACBC’s annual networking day.
As might be expected, the presentation by Simon Crean, Australia’s Minister for Trade (pictured above), was optimistic in tone. Entitled Australia and China: Open for Business, his speech left no doubt in the minds of the audience that the Australia-China economic relationship was fundamentally sound and that the government was committed to ensuring that it remains that way. Australia’s Minister for Trade singled out China’s continuing urbanization as providing opportunities for Australian businesses into the future, especially in China’s inland provinces such as Yunnan and Hubei.
“By the year 2030, an additional 300 million Chinese would need to be housed in new urban centres throughout China,” Mr Crean said. Referring to this new focus in Australia’s business approach to China as the second track commercial strategy, Mr Crean revealed it would be very much the focus of his forthcoming trip to China in May.
Turning to the ongoing negotiations for an Australia-China Free Trade Agreement, Mr Crean indicated the Australian side would be proposing to include a framework covering investment in the final version of the agreement, and indicating what was involved, would be very much a “two-way street”.
Two to three years ago, Australia’s chief negotiator for an Australia-China FTA, Ric Wells, had put up the same idea but it was never followed through.
Times have changed and so the inclusion of a framework for investment in any Australia-China FTA, providing streamlined procedures for handling investment applications from China, might well provide the impetus for the conclusion of an FTA sometime soon.

If anyone felt the need for additional proof of the health of the Australia-China economic relationship, they had no need to go beyond the speech delivered by Martin Ferguson, Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism. Indeed, it was difficult to grasp the full import of the figures he supplied on Australian mineral exports to China which now make up more than three-quarters of all Australian merchandise exports to the PRC; that in 2008-2009, approval was given for Chinese investment in Australia’s mineral resources sector of A$26 billion and that education travel to Australia by Chinese nationals is currently worth A$1.3 billion annually, with leisure travel by PRC nationals worth A$1 billion per year and that Chinese tourists are likely to number more than three-quarters of a million annually by 2018.

One of the commendable aspects of the presentations by the key ministers responsible for Australia’s economic relationship with the People’s Republic of China was that there had clearly been an effort made to ensure their presentations complemented each other. For example, the presentation by Stephen Smith, Australia’s Foreign Minister, was devoted to broad policy issues and winning acceptance that issues might arise in the future with the potential to complicate relations with China. Chris Bowen, Minister for Financial Services, was one of several ministers to suggest where Australian business had not fully taken up the opportunities presenting themselves in China. Mr Bowen said Australia had not exploited its experience and expertise in the field of equity raising and superannuation in the Chinese market. Dr Jammie Penm, Chief Commodity Analyst with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) provided some interesting and easily digestible statistics on trends in Australian commodity exports to China since the global financial crisis. Of surprise to most, was the fact that Australian coal exports to China had grown and were likely to be sustained in the short to medium term. Adam McKissack, principal advisor from the Domestic Economy Section of Treasury, who is to become Treasury’s representative at the Australian Embassy in Beijing in the near future, gave a sound overview of the Australian economy and the country’s trading position.

No report on the ACBC’s Networking Day 2010 would be complete without mention being made of the comprehensive briefing provided throughout the day on the Shanghai Expo, the Australian pavilion and related events. This was done by Laurie Smith, Regional Director, North-East Asia, Australian Trade Commission and Adam Coin from DFAT’s Shanghai Expo 2010 Unit, Paul Glasson, the ACBC’s Chief Representative in China based in Shanghai, and last but by no means least, the ACBC’s National Chairman, Frank Tudor who outlined the ACBC-Qantas Mission to Expo 2010 scheduled for July and the proposed Roundtable Forum on the future direction of the Australia-China economic relationship.

The Networking Day concluded with a reception hosted by the Chinese Ambassador, His Excellency Zhang Junsai at the Chinese Embassy. During his welcoming remarks, Ambassador Zhang stressed the importance of improving communications and the flow of information in relation to business and trade. He also proposed that a Roundtable of CEOs from Australian and Chinese companies be held to exchange ideas on maintaining and developing the economic relationship between China and Australia. The Ambassador then introduced Mr Deya Qiu, his new Minister and Counsellor for Commerce and Economic Affairs.  

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