Address to Latin America Down Under

  • Speech, E&OE

Friends of Australia, friends of Latin America.

I'm delighted to have the opportunity to address this conference, one that has firmly established itself, in only three years, as a vibrant feature on the national calendar and I congratulate Bill Repard for his efforts in that regard.

This year it has a particular significance for me because I'm part of the new Government, a Government that has declared that Australia is open for business. In that sense we are a very different Government – a Government focussing on growth on job opportunities with a very strong business agenda and an absolute commitment to building our trade links and building our prosperity and security for the future.

This month we delivered our first Budget and I believe both domestically and internationally, it is a very important Budget at a very important time because we have to re-establish our credentials as a significant and sophisticated economic player, committed to business, to growth, to trade, to investment, a Government that will live within its means and pay down debt and return to surplus, deregulating the business environment so the private sector can spread its wings and get on with the job of building growth, reforming the nation's economy, abolishing the mining and carbon tax which we believe threatened our international competitiveness.

As a Government we want to see the national fiscal position stronger than ever, conducive to investment, we want to embrace business activity, innovation and new partnerships around the world – of course including with Latin America, an Australia that attracts investment, encourages growth, and is a reliable partner in trade, commerce and investment, that's our aim.

Australia is what I call a top 20 country in so many respects but we cannot take it for granted. Our population of 23 million puts us at number 53 in the demographic stakes, but we are in the top 20 for virtually every other major indicator in global terms. Our economy is the 12th largest in the world. The 4th biggest in Asia – after China, Japan and India – and of course we've got just a fraction of their populations. We are the 5th wealthiest nation on earth, Credit Suisse places the median wealth of adult Australians as the highest in the world – number one. Our currency is the 5th most traded. We're the 13th most popular investment destination for foreign investment. We have the largest reserves in the world of brown coal, mineral sands, nickel, lead, uranium, iron ore, zinc, and amongst the largest reserves of bauxite and copper. We have the world's 3rd largest pool of investment funds under management. We are also a leader in other key growth areas: sitting in the top four for fuel and mining exports; top five for education exports; top ten for tourism; and top fifteen for agricultural exports. On tourism, last year Australia was number 1 for international expenditure per visitor.

And while I'm doing a sales job for Australia I'll point out that our labour force is one of the most multicultural, multilingual and educated in the world. One in ten Australians speaks an Asian language and almost 1.3 million Australians speak a European language other than English. The World Bank ranks Australia 11th for ease of doing business. And the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation place us 3rd in their 2014 index for economic freedom. And to top it all off the BBC's New York correspondent has labelled us a "superpower" now they meant a "lifestyle superpower" but hey, we're a great place to live.

Now I come from Western Australia and I'm acutely conscious of the fact that mining has been a big part of Australia's success and this is something that Australia and Latin America share. As with Latin America – mining has provided significant benefits to the Australian economy. It is the industry, more than almost any other, on which we have built our Top 20 economy.

Recently I invited heads of mission from the diplomatic corps in Canberra, the Ambassadors and High Commissioners, over to Perth to show them what drives the Australian economy - why we are in our 23rd consecutive year of growth. We visited not only Perth and surrounds but we went up north to the Pilbara and we visited Mt Whaleback, BHP's sites, Rio Tinto, Woodside and I hope that the Ambassadors and High Commissioners who were present on that field trip gained a greater insight as to the sheer depth and scale of the investment in Western Australia but there are still many more opportunities in the Australian energy and resources sector.

We've got world class mining and mining services expertise and a host of other industrial strengths, like tourism and agriculture – but we are on the doorstep of the Indian Ocean Asia Pacific region.

The opportunities for us, as Asian urbanisation and industrialisation continues, and as we increasingly supply the needs of the region's growing middle class, is all incredibly significant for us. We are so exquisitely placed geographically to benefit from the shift in global economic power to our region and it's here that Australia and Latin America have such a great opportunity to build on what we already do together. And because of our commonalities, because of our shared outlook, our mutual strength, our fundamental belief in freer trade and commerce I believe that we can plan a relationship that will be truly a model of what I call 'economic diplomacy'.

In foreign policy terms I speak of 'economic diplomacy', for just as traditional diplomacy is focused on the goals of peace, so economic diplomacy focuses on the goal of prosperity. What we will be doing is focusing our diplomatic efforts on enhancing trade and investment opportunities between the countries of the region but also globally. Economic diplomacy is embodied in the relationship that Latin America and Australia share.

The conclusion of free trade agreements since we came to office underscores our commitment. We've concluded free trade agreements with South Korea and with Japan in the eight months since we became the government and there has been significant progress made on our free trade agreement with China. So we are serious in our aims and commitments in the area of economic diplomacy and I think these bilateral trade deals will deliver significant benefits for Australians, our businesses and our investors.

They are a sign of things to come for we're also very committed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP Agreement and the negotiations have entered a final phase. Mexico, Chile, Peru are also part of this process. We see it as a vital trade agreement for Australia, and for those countries of Latin America who are involved, because it offers a gateway into the Indo-Pacific markets, and a mechanism of greater and more complex integration - access to regional value chains, opportunities for trade and investment on a completely different scale.

My colleague Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb claims to have made significant progress on a number of outstanding issues on the most recent TPP negotiations that took place in Singapore meeting in February. Trade with the 12 TPP countries makes up more than a third of Australia's total trade in 2012-13 so you can see how important it will be for us for this agreement to be concluded. With so much to gain, we all stand to benefit enormously from what must be a high quality, comprehensive and ambitious TPP that tackles decades-old trade barriers and addresses modern-day trade and investment challenges.

As our region grows, opportunities for wealth creation and building prosperity will grow and Australia and Latin America have so much to gain together.

In fact tonight I must acknowledge Pedro the Argentinian Ambassador. As the Dean of the diplomatic corps Pedro invites me to dinners in Canberra with the Latin American Ambassadors and they are the most effective diplomatic cohort in Canberra bar none, they hunt in a pack and woe betide any Foreign Minister who ignores their entreaties!

But there's a ballast to the Australia-Latin American relationship that is more than just the personal friendships that we have built up over the years. It's our common democracy, respect for rule of law, embracing freedom. And because of that there's mutual respect from decades of close cooperation in areas as diverse as multilateral arms control, the environment and of course free trade. Fundamentally our countries respect the power of commerce – of trade and investment.

I had a great visit to Mexico last month and gained a very good perspective on the opportunities of the region. For example, Mexico is now the 14th largest economy in the world but predicted to be in the top 10 in the next few years – and it was completely understandable, once I was there, taking in the energy and the dynamism in Mexico with its supply chains so closely linked to the North American market.

Likewise, my good friend and Chair of the Council on Australia Latin America Relations, Chris Gale, is unstinting in his praise for doing business in Peru. And its neighbour Chile boasts economic opportunities galore and with whom we have a free trade agreement. There is important innovative collaboration and investment growth activity in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua and other mineral rich parts of Latin America and the Caribbean that we can harness.

I truly believe it is time to translate our growing cross-cultural understanding into concrete action to support our economic and trade relations. It is time we start working together far more closely, including becoming more strategic in regional affairs.

I and my four fellow foreign ministers in the new 'MIKTA' grouping of Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia – met for a retreat in Mexico City last month.

This is a new but important economic and strategic alliance – and it highlights the interconnectedness between our respective regions whether it's Latin America, or South East Asia, or North Asia or the Middle East, I think it's fair to say that in the past Australia has had a rather incomplete patchwork of trade and economic arrangements with Latin America.

In fact I've checked and there's a vast array of free trade agreements, or double taxation agreements, or social security arrangements, or work and holiday visa agreements, or air services agreements but it's not uniform, it's not consistent, in some cases it's illogical and I think it's time we bought some consistency to it.

I've tasked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to come up with a matrix for each country, covering all these areas, so we can see at a glance where the gaps are, where the strengths are and where we need to do a lot more work and I'm going to share that with my ambassadorial colleagues but also with business so that we can really focus on broadening and deepening and diversifying the respective bilateral relationships within the Australia Latin America relationship overall. It's also fair to say that this will change the nature of a number of our relationships. Particularly from those that have been based on foreign aid to more mature economic partnerships and I want to see those aid based relationships develop into full economic partnerships and this is a key priority for our government.

In this context we are delivering on our scholarship commitments in Latin America and the Latin American region remains part of the Australia Awards Fellowships Program.This is really important because these fellowships in particular not only build personal relationships but they enhance business activity, offer opportunities for professional development and study tours and short courses so you get that deeper engagement that only comes from living, and working and studying in another country.

We're adopting what I call a new aid paradigm. New approaches are required, much more innovative thinking. We can't keep doing what we've always done and that has invariably drawn our focus closer to our immediate region. But we have global interests and I want to be very clear about how I see the next phase of our relationship with Latin America.

I see it in the context of mature economic partnerships - friends, strategic partners investing in one another's industries and investing in each other's people. Friends and partners economically, strategically.

Let me give some examples. I am delighted to see the CSIRO and University of Queensland are working in partnership with Latin American governments on mining, minerals processing and sustainable mining. Australia understands the importance of a "social license" for mining and the need for community engagement and employment as part of major resource projects. And we can share our experience our expertise our technology and what I think are pretty innovative practises in that regard.

I am also delighted that the Council on Australia Latin America Relations has supported a seminar series on Australia's technical and vocational education training system - something else that we want to share with the region. The first round of seminars were held in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico last month and the second round of seminars will be held in Argentina, Chile and Peru next month. And I think these are brilliant examples of the depth of our work together and the potential for it.

There are some extremely promising opportunities ahead – not just in mining and industry, but across the board in arts and culture, in sport, in security and regional strategic leadership. These are changing times, but they are times of great opportunity.

It's appropriate at this time, I mention a few people in the room who contribute and represent the diversity in the activity that currently exists and I think can be enhanced between Australia and Latin America. Professor John Dell, Dean, Engineering, Computing and Mathematics, University of Western Australia – it's great to see a fine WA institution represented here at LADU for the first time. Ms Robyn Archer AO, what a pleasure it is to have you with us tonight to highlight the importance of business working with the arts. Garry Stewart, Creative Director, Australian Dance Theatre. Tim Harcourt, JW Neville Economist at the University of New South Wales, congratulations on another publication which enhances our understanding of Latin America.

I see a very bright future for Australia and Latin America and Latin America of course is centre stage in the world's focus at the moment. Hosting the World Cup next month, hosting the Olympics in 2016 and there is no doubt that that will have a transformative effect, have a transformative and globalising effect, not just for Brazil, but the whole of Latin America. Just as we will gain from hosting the G20 in Brisbane in November, I know that this global focus on Latin America in the years ahead will be transformative for your region as well.

So ladies and gentleman thank you for having me here this evening, I do have to fly back to Canberra, I hope the Cabinet meeting has finished – but in the meantime let me leave you with this thought: the very best days of the Australia Latin America relationship lie ahead of us.

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