Address to AustCham Business Breakfast

Speech, E&OE, (check against delivery)

Seoul, Republic of Korea

18 October 2013

Thank you Diana for that introduction. I acknowledge Ambassador Paterson, Ladies and Gentlemen. I thank AustCham for hosting this breakfast this morning and congratulate you and thank you on the work that you do to nurture the Australia-Korea business relationship.

I'm absolutely delighted to have this opportunity to address such a distinguished audience of members of the Korean business community, as well as active members of the Australian business community here in Seoul.

Just over four weeks ago, I was sworn in as Australia's 38th Foreign Minister. But I was absolutely determined to ensure that very early in my term I would visit Korea to highlight the importance that the new Australian Government places on our relationship with Korea.

Yesterday I attended the Cyberspace Conference that was hosted by Foreign Minister Yun and that highlighted what an exciting and vibrant and dynamic economy you have here in Korea and underpinned President Park's commitment to ensuring that Korea is truly a creative economy.

Our historic and political and strategic and cultural bonds have strengthened over time and our economic partnership is strong. Korea is our third largest destination for exports, our fourth largest trading partner overall.

My visit here is intended to build on that solid foundation

And we can do that by concluding a free trade agreement (FTA), by increasing two way trade and investment, and on our part, by assuring Korean companies that we are open for your business.

Indeed on election night on the seventh of September, Prime Minister elect Tony Abbott said Australia is under new management and we are open for business. And that is the message I want to convey to you this morning and we are determined not to just say it, but actually do it. For we have a very pro-business agenda.

One of the first acts of the Abbott Government would be to repeal the Carbon Tax. The next would be to repeal the Mining Tax. And we have an ambitious agenda of deregulation and ensuring that we can get rid of the unnecessary red-tape. Indeed the green tape that surrounds approvals for so many major projects in our country.

One of my colleagues has been tasked with finding $1 billion worth of unnecessary red-tape and regulation to lift from the Australian economy each and every year. And we have determined to hold "repeal days" in our parliament, where we do nothing but repeal legislation, instead of introduce it. I think I'll be able to sell tickets to the Australian business community for that.

We will also re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, to ensure that unions and employers abide by the laws of the country.

We recognise that for business to flourish, it's got to be easier to do business in Australia, not harder.

And we recognise that Government's role is to provide stability and certainty and predictability. In fact, Prime Minister Abbott has guaranteed a "no surprises" policy on the part of the new Australian Government.

In terms of Australia's foreign policy, it is designed to project and protect our reputation as an open, export-oriented market economy. And as an open, liberal democracy, committed to democratic values and democratic institutions.

We will place economic diplomacy at the forefront of our foreign policy and by that I mean we will align our international assets, including the work of our diplomats and our representatives overseas to work for Australia's long-term economic prosperity and the prosperity of our trading partners and that of the region as a whole.

This will be most evident in our trade and investment policies as we support economic reform, trade liberalisation and the interests of our businesses.

That means supporting an open trading system.

Pursuing an ambitious free trade agenda overall and advocating for liberal foreign investment policies.

Fostering a vibrant business sector in Australia and in our region and strengthening our links in the Asia-pacific region where the economies are growing so quickly.

This has been the policy of the Liberal Party for some time. Back in 1999, under the Howard Government, following the failure of the WTO meeting in Seattle to launch a new WTO round, the Howard Government made a major shift away from decades of trade policy orthodoxy.

We didn't abandon global trade liberalisation; rather we came to the pragmatic realisation that our economic interests were best served by concurrently pursuing other ways to secure better market access for our exporters and our investors.

So, in order to improve market access, in order to find new sources of capital, we concluded free trade agreements with Singapore, with Thailand, with the United States. And others have followed.

It is now the Abbott Government's aim to establish a whole network of bilateral and regional free trade agreements.

This brings me to the issue of the Australia-Korea FTA. The Abbott Government is keen to re-invigorate negotiations to conclude this bilateral agreement. Indeed, it is a priority in our trade policy to conclude an Australia-Korea free trade agreement.

Such a free trade agreement is a centre piece in our overall economic relationship and its absence is holding back our businesses. We are both losing market share.

I recognise that there are sensitivities on both sides. Australia will consider how we can negotiate the Investor State Dispute Settlement clause. They exist in some of our FTAs and not in others. And our very pragmatic view is that they should be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

Our beef and sugar and dairy exporters want to remain competitive with the United States and the European Union. We're very conscious of the gains made by the US into the Korean market as a result of the Korea-US FTA.

Korean industry stands to benefit, through cheaper mineral and energy imports and there will be new opportunities for service supplies and investors.

I think particularly of financial and legal services.

The education sector, telecommunications and others will be well served with a free trade agreement between our two countries.

The Abbott Government believes that our economies are complementary – Australia produces high quality, clean food exports. I was delighted to attend a dinner the other evening hosted by Foreign Minister Yun with a number of Foreign Ministers from other countries. And there, on the menu, was Australian beef and we were drinking Australian wine. The other foreign ministers were very jealous of our position.

We also are a significant source of minerals and resources and energy products.

Korea manufactures high quality consumer goods – Hyundai cars. Samsung smartphones.

So there are many, many complementarities that we can build upon.

Last year, Australia was Korea's number one source of natural resources and agricultural products. Korean investment in Australia in 2012 was around $12 billion and Australian investment in Korea was about $10.5 billion.

This is where a free trade agreement can also assist – in two-way investment.

Take the resources sector. Korean investment in the Roy Hill project is exceedingly welcome in Australia. A large iron ore project that we feel sure will be of great benefit to both our countries.

And in the dynamic LNG sector, where Australia is selling LNG to Korea, while Korean companies are building the infrastructure for that to happen. The Korean ships, the LNG platforms and the like. A great example of the complementarities of our economies.

We also believe that the people-to-people links between Australia and Korea can also be nurtured and flourish.

The Abbott Government is introducing what we hope will be a signature policy in the education field. We have called it the New Colombo Plan and this will be a national government backed scheme to give young Australian undergraduates the opportunity to undertake study at universities in our region.

The original Colombo Plan which was entered into back in the 1950s saw students from the region come to study in Australian universities. And between the 1950s and the 1980s, about 40,000 young students from the region lived and studied in Australian universities.

As I travel through the region, I'm so often struck by the number of parliamentarians, prime ministers, cabinet ministers, business leaders, community leaders who were Colombo Plan scholars. And their understanding of, and appreciation of, Australia comes from those student days.

Well, we believe that if Australia is truly to engage with Asia, we should send our bright young people into the region to live and study in universities. And what will be different about this scholarship program, is we will work in partnership with businesses to provide these students with an opportunity to have an internship with a business operating in the host country.

So, for example, a student from Sydney University who is provided with a scholarship to study in a Korean university would also have an opportunity to work in either an Australian business operating in Korea or a Korean business that is looking to identify bright young Australians who might be prospective employees.

I cannot think of a better way to ensure that our relationship endures than to have the next generation of young Australians and young Koreans spending time in each other's country.

We know that there are thousands of young Koreans who study in Australia and they are greatly welcomed. But we want to ensure that there are thousands of young Australians over time that study at universities and work in internships in Korea. And I think in that way, young people will return to their home countries with new perspectives, new ideas, new outlooks, and not only add to the prosperity and productivity of their own country but also enhance the overall prosperity of the region.

We will be putting in place a pilot program for the new Colombo Plan in 2014 and once we've ironed out the problems, and come up with the right models, we would invite Korea, in 2015, to take part in this scheme. And we very much hope that you will see the benefits that will come from participation in Australia's New Colombo Plan.

For we are natural partners. With shared values, a commitment to democracy, free market economics. We contribute to regional stability as middle powers. We are strong strategic partners.

In fact, we are the second largest strategic partner with Korea and over time that will only increase.

We have commenced what are called 2+2 meetings between the foreign affairs and defence ministers of each country. We're working on a vision statement in terms of our strategic outlook for this region and the globe.

Last month in New York, Australia and Korea joined with Mexico, Turkey and Indonesia to discuss matters of mutual interest. We called ourselves MIKTA – Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey, and Australia – not very original, but you get what we mean. We are active middle powers in our respective regions.

And we talked about issues where we have a common outlook and attitude and approach.

And we intend to meet on a not-so-regular basis, but we intend to keep in touch so that we share ideas and perspectives in the lead up to meetings where Australia and Korea and the other countries are present.

For example, next year, Australia chairs the G20. The G20 is the premier forum for the discussion of not only financial issues, but more increasingly strategic issues. Indeed, the challenge for the G20 is to prove its relevance beyond being able to respond in a collective way to financial crises.

The other month in St Petersburg, for the first time, the G20 discussed strategic matters in detail, particularly around the Syria conflict. And so that is an indication that the G20 can be flexible and hopefully nimble in responding to some of the challenges facing the world.

The G20 countries represent over 85 per cent of global GDP and about 75 per cent of global trade. So, the G20 has the opportunity to make a difference.

We intend to work closely with Korea in the G20 and other forums.

But there is more that we can do in terms of strengthening our bilateral relationship. And I truly believe that that starts with the conclusion of a free trade agreement. It will take our overall relationship to a new level.

So, in the spirit of the symbols on the Korean flag, I believe our relationship can be one of harmony and symmetry, balance and circulation.

Thank you.


QUESTION: Michael Finucan from Meat and Livestock Australia, there's been some great commentary from the coalition about the FTA out of APEC and your comments. I guess our industry and the broader business community here, would be keen to hear what the next step is and when negotiators will be back at the table?

JULIE BISHOP: Thanks Michael, and obviously we have a deep interest in ensuring that your industry is able to benefit from the conclusion of a free trade agreement, not only with Korea but also with our other major trading partners in Asia, Japan and China. Our expectation is that the Australia-Korea FTA is the next to be concluded. And we have certainly charged our negotiators with the task of concluding it as soon as possible. That's a message that I have been giving to Foreign Minister Yun and he has reciprocated. The message has been delivered to our officials on both sides. President Park and Prime Minister Abbott discussed it at Brunei at the East Asia Summit, so I feel sure that we're looking at months, not years.

In fact, I've suggested rather cheekily that given President Park has been invited to Australia and we hope that she will come sooner rather than later, that might be a very symbolic opportunity for the signature.

So, hopefully we will see it soon. It is indeed a priority for us and the issues still to be agreed upon are narrowing by the day. I am confident that we will be able to achieve it very soon.

PETER FELTIS: Any other questions? While people are perhaps thinking of one, I might throw one in myself.

Just back to your core portfolio of Foreign Affairs, and we understand that business is at the forefront of your foreign affairs activities, but, with Australia's role at the UN Security Council, perhaps it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on how that went recently – with the very significant developments in Syria and other world affairs, matters that are going on?

JULIE BISHOP: I was sworn in as Foreign Affairs Minister on a Wednesday, and by the following Monday I was chairing the UN Security Council. I assume that's what Foreign Ministers do!

It was opportune for me to go to the UN General Assembly leaders' week, because in September, Australia also held the chairmanship of the UN Security Council. So, I was able to take part in a general debate in the GA and gave Australia's statement in the GA, where I focussed on economic diplomacy, for we believe that strong economies bring prosperity, which brings peace. And it was a message that I wished to deliver on Australia's behalf to the UN General Assembly.

In the Security Council, much of the debate centred around the conflict in Syria. And you will recall during that week, when Russia and the United States were negotiating over the terms of a resolution which would have the effect of ensuring a UN process to secure and ultimately eliminate Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons. Such a resolution was eventually agreed, and that opened the way for a resolution and indeed it was a (UNSC) presidential statement, co-authored by Australia and Luxembourg, on the humanitarian issues in Syria. While the focus is on chemical weapons, conventional weapons are still being used in this terrible conflict. And the humanitarian disaster is still significant. So we were able to achieve unanimous support for a (UNSC) presidential statement to provide more humanitarian aid and access. And then that leaves the way open for Geneva II, the conference, which I understand has now been scheduled for mid-November to take place to see if there is a political solution to this terrible conflict.

Australia also took a role in encouraging other parties to ratify the Arms Trade Treaty. That's a matter that we have long advocated and we also led a debate on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons and we received great support from our friends in Korea on all those issues.

JULIE BISHOP: I'm waiting for someone to put their hand up and say they'd love to be part of the New Colombo Plan. I've been encouraging businesses in the region and in fact, maybe you don't realise this, but when I meet with representatives of your companies in Australia, I encourage them to sign up to be part of our New Colombo Plan internships and they assure me that this will occur, somehow the email hasn't gotten back to your head offices yet!

PETER FELTIS: I'm sure there are a few interns in the audience just looking for a new job. Okay.

SERGIO ROCHA: (President and CEO, General Motors, Korea): Okay. We're already there. When I was in … [inaudible] …a few minutes ago. I tell the whole Korean leadership in GM that our 11 top leaders in South Korea, including three VPs, they are from Australia. We are already there. We can't … [inaudible] ... expand.

JULIE BISHOP: Congratulations, I'm pleased, but as you'll know, from that experience, nothing can quite replace a situation where people who have lived and worked in another country can have that understanding, so we hope to have a whole generation of young Australians, who will have learned another language, hopefully Korean, who will have spent time, even if it's a semester, as a university student in Korea and that surely will ensure that the ties between our countries continue to endure. So often our relationship is seen through the prism of history, through our support during the Korean War. Today, so often our relationship is seen through our absolute and utter commitment to supporting South Korea against provocative and aggressive behaviour from the North, and that will of course remain the case forever more. But, new generations of young Koreans and young Australians see the world differently and I think this captures their innovative creative spirit, so I'll put you down for several interns, thank you.

PETER FELTIS: I think on those uplifting comments, I'm afraid the Minister has a very busy schedule so we'll have to end it there. I think we'd like to wrap up by saying once again thank you for your valuable time, we welcome all of your comments and insights you've shared with us this morning and we welcome you to Korea and trust you enjoy the rest of your time here. Please, a warm round of applause for the Foreign Minister.

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