Australia’s economic wellbeing and growth depend on a competitive domestic economy and access to foreign markets. Trade policy, industry policy and microeconomic reform go hand in hand to provide Australian business with the competitive foundations and opportunities to thrive in an increasingly globalised marketplace.
As with Australia’s security interests, Australia’s economic interests are most closely engaged in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2000, 55% of Australia’s merchandise exports went to East Asian countries and 74% to APEC members, the destination also for over half of Australia’s foreign direct investment. East Asian markets are, and will remain, important for Australia.
Australian trade policy combines an integrated set of bilateral, regional and multilateral efforts aimed at advancing Australia’s commercial interests, including by achieving the best possible market access outcomes for Australian business. To this extent, Australia’s trade strategies focus on reducing barriers to Australian goods, services and investment in foreign markets, developing those markets, and promoting Australia as a supplier of goods, services and investment.
Australia is pursuing a linkage between the economic relations agreement we share with New Zealand (Closer Economic Relations or CER) and the ASEAN Free Trade Area, as well as discussing bilateral Free Trade Agreements with countries in the region, such as Singapore.
The WTO is of particular significance to Australia because it is the major forum for global trade liberalisation and, through its rules and disciplines, provides a predictable and more transparent environment for business, and a means of resolving trade disputes. Australia is, and will continue to be, an active player in the WTO, including as an advocate for continued global market opening and as the leader of the Cairns Group of agricultural fair traders.
The failure of the Ministerial-level meeting of the WTO in Seattle in December 1999 to reach agreement to launch a new round of multilateral trade negotiations was a setback. The launch of a new round in Doha remains a major trade policy focus for Australia. Despite the disappointing outcome in Seattle, Australia achieved strong developing country support for ambitious agriculture reform proposals, and previously mandated agriculture and services negotiations were subsequently begun. Australia will continue its efforts to build consensus in the international community for the launch of a new round. In the longer term, Australia’s objectives in the WTO are to ensure that the system remains relevant to the needs of Australian business by extending the rules and disciplines to new areas of importance; to focus the WTO work program on key market access issues; to seek to make world trade in agriculture free from distortion by subsidies and domestic support; and to increase access for Australia’s exports of agricultural products.
The strong Asia Pacific orientation of Australia’s trade and the importance of liberalising and facilitating trade in the region make APEC a significant regional forum in which Australia participates. APEC economies committed themselves, in the Declaration by Leaders in Bogor in 1994, to free and open trade and investment by 2010 for industrialised economies and by 2020 for developing economies. Australia remains committed to this goal, the implementation of which, if met, would bring considerable long-term benefits for Australia and the region. Australia is working in the short and medium term to ensure substantial progress in the liberalisation programs of individual APEC economies.
Attention to financial sector issues has been given added impetus as economies undertake reform and restructuring following the East Asian economic crisis. There has also been increased recognition of the importance of direct business participation in APEC activities. This not only helps ensure that APEC is tackling the most important impediments to trade, investment and economic growth in the region, but can be a powerful force in encouraging APEC economies to push ahead with difficult reform decisions.
APEC’s contribution, however, goes beyond trade and investment, and economic and technical cooperation issues. It is the only regional forum which brings together leaders from across the Asia Pacific. These meetings contribute to habits of consultation and dialogue, and the development of personal relationships, which strengthen trust and confidence among regional countries.