Australia-Latin America Business Council Annual Dinner

  • Speech, check against delivery

Thank you very much for the introduction.

Ladies and gentlemen I am absolutely delighted to be here at this event hosted by the Australian-Latin American Business Council to celebrate the extraordinary relationship between Australia and Latin America.

Valeria, thank you so much for being a sponsor from Latam and announcing that level of connectivity between Australia and Latin American countries via your airline, so I think that's a wonderful announcement this evening.

I also want to pay tribute to Jose for his 26 years of leadership of the Australia-Latin America Business Council.

I have always appreciated the enormous potential of the relationship between Australia and Latin American countries. As the Ambassadors and Consul-General here will know, I have often met with them and discussed opportunities on a regular basis. I tell Carlo that the Latin American Ambassadors hunt in a pack. They're always together, they're always on the same page, they're unrelenting in pursuing opportunities. And now I have 14 Ambassadors in Canberra and I look forward to working closely with them.

Indeed, the potential of this relationship was brought home to me on my most recent visit to the region when I visited Argentina and Colombia and then I went to the CARICOM meeting in Grenada, I visited Cuba, and was the first Australian Foreign Minister to visit Panama.

The highlight of the visit was opening Australia's Embassy in Colombia, in Bogota, and that was an important statement of our growing engagement in the region. But I have to say one of the more entertaining moments was in Cuba when we broke for morning tea in a busy day of meetings and out came the rum cocktails, and I thought this is the way to do diplomacy! I had learned from a previous visit to Peru when they were serving pisco sours at breakfast, and I learned again, that there are three challenges as a Foreign Minister – protocol, cholesterol, alcohol.

There is so much that we do together. There are so many areas of collaboration but I wanted to mention a number that are a little different and perhaps not ones that are expected to feature in a relationship between Australia and Latin American countries: renewable energy, health and education.

In the global quest for sustainable, renewable energy, a key ingredient is lithium for electric cars and batteries. The world's three largest holders of reserves of lithium happen to be Australia, Argentina and Chile. We are working collaboratively to explore opportunities to produce the lithium that the world needs. An Australian company Orocobre, an ASX listed company, has entered into a project in Argentina to develop the most modern, contemporary, sophisticated mining operation to extract lithium from salt lakes. This is an exciting venture for us as we are changing the global market in lithium.

Likewise, another key ingredient is copper which is used in hybrid and electric cars and for back-up power generation, solar generation and the like. BHP, one of our sponsors tonight, is exploring new projects in Peru. BHP and Rio Tinto are continuing their copper operations in Chile, and I had the opportunity to visit the First Quantum copper mine in Panama when I was there. First Quantum is a company based in my hometown of Perth. So again, exciting opportunities where Australian companies are bringing their mining expertise to Latin America and developing mines and projects that will be of benefit to both Australia and the Latin American countries.

In renewable energies more broadly, in solar, Macquarie Bank, an Australian company, has invested in a solar project in Mexico and a hydro project in Colombia. Pacific Hydro has invested in a hydro project in Chile, and this is a Chinese company Australian managed, and in windfarms in Brazil. This underscores the fact that there are now so many more Australian companies operating in Latin America - in fact around 430 which is double the number just six years ago. While many are in the mining and resource and energy sector, we're seeing more in services and other areas of the economy.

On the issue of health, this is really exciting, and I know my friend from Cuba confirms, we were discussing the expertise of Cuban doctors which is renowned, but researchers and scientists from Australia and Latin America are working together collaboratively in areas like tropical medicines to find cures and preventative measures for some of the tropical diseases that afflict hundreds of millions of people in the tropics. Australian researchers and Latin American researchers are working together on some exciting projects.

There's an Australian biotech company called Implicit Bioscience that's entered into an agreement with a Brazilian pharmaceutical company, with research being done by Colombia's University of Antioquia. This is just one example of the kind of collaboration we see through our universities and our researchers. Whether it's in dengue fever, or indeed, the Council of Australia-Latin America Relations have brought together health institutes in Australia and Latin America to focus on the Zika virus. In health we are changing global outcomes, likewise in education. This is a really exciting area because if we invest in our young people then our relationships will endure.

Under Australia's Endeavour Scholarship and Fellowship program next year 67 Latin American scholars will be in Australia on our Endeavour Scholarships. Another 29 will be here on fellowships and 130 Australians will be studying in Latin American countries under the Mobility awards. I think that that's an area of great potential. If we can have more of our young people spending time living and studying in Latin America and more Latin students living and studying in Australia, this is the kind of engagement that is a long-term investment.

Of course there are so many other areas where we work together. Some would say in agriculture surely we compete? Yes, but we also collaborate and I think that one of the most exciting initiatives that I've seen of recent times is where companies in Latin America are using Australia as a platform to engage into the huge markets of Asia. Whether it's a Brazilian beef company with subsidiaries in Australia to get into the Asian markets or whether it's Japanese food companies using offices in Australia as part of their work with the Uruguay beef industry for example, this is where we can complement and support each other.

Last week the Prime Minister, our Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, and I released the Australian Government's Foreign Policy White Paper. This is the first White Paper we've had in 14 years and it is the first time ever that we've had such a comprehensive report on the intersection between our national interest and our international engagement.

This Paper didn't predict the future – of course it can't – but it did focus on the threats, and the risks, and the trends, and the opportunities that Australia will face as we see it over the next decade and beyond. It was an opportunity for us to outline what we saw as our national interest, our values, and our priorities.

Undoubtedly our interests are global but we do have priorities in the Indo-Pacific region, the Indian Ocean-Asia Pacific, which of course brings in the west coast of South America and Latin America.

One theme that is running through the White Paper, and therefore at the base of our foreign policy, is our support for the international rules based order. Australia is an open, liberal democracy. We're committed to freedoms, and democratic institutions, and the rule of law. We're also committed to the international rules based order, that web of alliances and treaties, and institutions that has evolved since the Second World War and underpinned now by a body of international laws and rules and conventions that has enabled us to achieve relative peace and prosperity around the world – compared with previous centuries most certainly – but has seen the greatest expansion of prosperity in human history with hundreds of millions of people being lifted out of poverty.

That international rules-based order is under strain. In fact, it's been openly challenged by some nations for short-term gain. It's been undermined deliberately by others. But also with the rise of populous sentiment and anti-globalisation movements around the world the open trading system that has seen such prosperity is also under challenge. Our White Paper outlines how we must join with likeminded countries around the world to continue to push for free and open trade so that our markets are open, the trade keeps flowing.

Australia has been an enormous beneficiary of the global trading system. We have set a world record this year – we are in our 27th consecutive year of uninterrupted economic growth – no other country has ever achieved that before. We're the 13th largest economy in the world but only the 53rd when it comes to population. So how does a country of our size become the 13th largest economy? Because we sell our goods and services around the world and we attract foreign direct investment. You don't get rich selling to yourself. We don't have the savings to fund the projects that underpin our economic growth and the standard of living in our country so we are an open export-oriented market economy and that's how economy grows and that's how we create jobs, and that's how we have a standard of living that can be the envy of others. That's where the countries of Latin America and Australia share similar values.

We are export countries, we need to trade goods and services. We have had some significant wins with Free Trade Agreements in recent years – huge Free Trade Agreements with China, Japan and South Korea – but we are more ambitious than that and by 2020 we want to ensure that at least 80 per cent of our trade is covered by Free Trade Agreements. That's why we were so pleased to conclude a Free Trade Agreement with Peru. That's why we're so ambitious in concluding a Free Trade Agreement with the Pacific Alliance - Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru – and why we are talking with Mercosur so we can find more opportunities for trade and investment. This will continue to be the key to our relationship, an economic relationship, a strategic relationship. As we build stronger ties bilaterally with each of the countries of Latin America, and collectively as regions, we will be adding to the peace, stability and prosperity of our part of the world.

I pay tribute to the Australian Latin American Business Council for the work that you do in opening doors and finding opportunities for us to continue to drive that absolutely essential trade and investment that leads to peace, prosperity and security. Prosperity and security go hand in hand, you can't have one without the other. I believe that the very best days of our relationship lie ahead of us and I pay tribute to the businesses that have done so much to develop our relationship, and I certainly congratulate in advance, the winners of the awards this evening.

Media enquiries