The competitiveness of Australian businesses depends on our ability to make the most of the economic opportunities from the emerging services sector in China, writes David Olsson, Chairman of AustCham Beijing.
China is Australia’s most significant trading partner and is likely to remain so for years to come. Investment flows continue to grow and are shaping our economic future.
We are happy to enjoy the benefits, but a common cry for some time has been that Australia needs a roadmap to allow us to capitalise on an economic transformation – driven by China – that is unparalleled in our nation’s history.
Whether the White Paper on “Australia in the Asian Century” recently announced by the Prime Minister will provide the certainty that is desired remains to be seen, but for Australian businesses on the ground in China, the imperative is clear – identify the emerging opportunities, develop the required capabilities and push ahead with the implementation of business strategies.
Concerns surrounding the slowing down of China’s economy and global economic uncertainty are of course relevant considerations, but they should not be a cause for concern in the long-term future of the Australia China economic relationship. Indeed, an annual GDP growth rate of 7 percent should hardly be a reason to pull back on continuing to lay the foundations for the next era of economic growth.
As China transitions into the next stage of its development, shifting from an export-led growth and development model to one which has a greater focus around domestic consumption, we have a significant window of opportunity to broaden our business relationships by aligning them to one of the areas of key strategic interest to China – the development of its services sector.
The “Australia-China 2.0 Trade Mission” promoted by Foreign Minister Rudd and led by Trade Minister Emerson mid year highlighted the importance and commitment the Australian federal government has placed on advancing the services trade agenda with China. State-level Australian governments have also been active in pushing for this same agenda.
This government level commitment to a new era of the Australia-China economic relationship needs to be matched from the private sector. Much has already been done and the growth of membership in AustChams around the country is testament to this – but it is clear that we are only just starting to see the extent of the opportunities that lie ahead.
Australia’s services sector is world class and has a first-rate international reputation. We are highly skilled, mature and possess excellent know-how, technologies and management systems. We are well-equipped and well-positioned to deliver the range of sophisticated services China needs for the next phase of its development.
The Australian Chambers of Commerce in China are committed to supporting and advancing the Australia China economic relationship beyond resources. Our services sector members have already established a strong presence in China in industries such as education, finance, corporate and legal services, environmental consulting, mining services, clean energy, urban design, architecture, transport logistics, smart ticketing, food and agriculture and digital media.
Australia is one of the select few countries that are the beneficiaries of China’s massive need for natural resources – but uniquely, we also have one of the most sophisticated services sectors in the world. Therein lies our competitive advantage. We are now being offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to leverage China’s enduring interest in our resources sector by engaging China more comprehensively around the services sector.
There will be challenges ahead, known and unknown. We will need to develop new and mutually advantageous corporate and strategic alliances and partnerships. But the challenge is ours and we have no option but to embrace it.
Recent events and initiatives
As always, AustCham Beijing has had a busy Autumn.
We were delighted to host a breakfast to welcome Ambassador Frances Adamson to the Australian business community. The Ambassador spoke to a lively audience about her thoughts on the future direction of the Australia-China relationship.
Seminars were also hosted for the Victorian Premier Ted Ballieu and NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell each of whom lead delegations to China with a clear intent to participate in the emerging service sector opportunities.
We attracted over 250 people to the annual Great Aussie BBQ held at the Dulwich College. The highlight of the event was the Invocare Ashes Series cricket match between the Australian Embassy and our British counterparts. The afternoon brought together families and friends to enjoy wonderful food and drinks on the grass, under the last of Beijing’s autumn warmth.
Most notable of all, AustCham celebrated its 15th Anniversary of the granting of its licence as Australia’s Chamber of Commerce in China. The gala event was a spectacular evening enjoyed by celebrity guests and members and friends of the Australian and Chinese business communities. ■