Australia's economic wellbeing and growth depend on a competitive domestic economy and access to foreign markets and investment. Trade policy, industry policy and microeconomic reform all work to provide Australian business with the competitive foundations and opportunities to thrive in an increasingly globalised marketplace. Australia's trade policy combines mutually reinforcing multilateral, regional and bilateral efforts to advance its commercial interests. Strategies focus on reducing barriers and developing markets for Australian exports, services and investment.
As with Australia's security interests, Australia's economic interests are most closely engaged in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2002, 70% of Australia's exports of goods and services went to member economies of the APEC forum. APEC members accounted for 47% of Australian foreign direct investment at June 2002.
For a major trading nation like Australia, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is of particular significance. It is the chief forum for global trade liberalisation and, through its rules and disciplines, provides a predictable and more transparent environment for trans-border business. It also provides an important means of resolving trade disputes. Australia chairs the Cairns Group of WTO member countries seeking fair trade in agricultural products.
The key multilateral trade objective for Australia is the successful conclusion of the new round of WTO trade negotiations, launched in Doha in November 2001. The Doha Declaration gives specific commitment to negotiations on a wide range of issues, including services, industrial products, intellectual property, WTO rules (including anti-dumping), dispute settlement and some trade and environment issues. The round offers Australia potentially a substantial improvement in access to global markets - particularly in agriculture, services and industrial products - and secure trading conditions. Australia was disappointed that the fifth WTO ministerial conference in Mexico in September 2003 did not take the necessary decisions to advance the negotiations. Australia remains committed to achieving a substantial market access outcome and is actively encouraging all other WTO members to continue to engage constructively in the negotiations.
Engaging in the region, Australia is committed to achieving APEC's goals of free and open trade and investment. The implementation of these goals will bring considerable long-term benefits for Australia and the region. APEC's 'three pillars' - trade and investment liberalisation, business facilitation, and economic and technical cooperation - form the basis of its work. APEC also supports multilateral trade negotiations in the WTO, and emphasises private sector participation in its activities.
Leaders from the 21 APEC member economies meet annually to develop strategies for promoting growth and economic development in the Asia-Pacific region. They also hold informal discussions on current regional and international issues. Ministers, government officials and all sectors of business and industry also cooperate to reduce the barriers to trade and investment.
Australia has indicated it is prepared to consider concluding with important trading partners bilateral FTAs which would complement its multilateral efforts and deliver early benefits in the form of improved access to markets for Australian exporters and enhanced conditions for trade and investment. In 2003, Australia concluded an FTA with Singapore and negotiations for FTAs are currently underway with the United States of America and Thailand. Australia’s regional economic presence is further enhanced by key agreements: the Australia-Japan Trade and Economic Framework (signed in 2003), the CER Agreement (agreed in 1983), and the ASEAN Free Trade Area - CER Closer Economic Partnership (concluded in 2003). Efforts are also underway to strengthen the trade relationships with China and other countries in the East Asian region.