It has been an honour to serve as Australia’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment in the Morrison Government for the past 847 days. I congratulate Dan Tehan on his swearing into this portfolio.
With one in five Australian jobs reliant on trade, our export sector is such a critical part of our economy and will play a crucial role in Australia’s ultimate economic recovery from COVID-19. My number one priority as Trade Minister has been to continue to provide Australian farmers, businesses and investors with better access and more choices to export to markets around the world.
This started with overseeing the implementation of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which provided our first ever trade pact with Canada and Mexico, as well as improved access into markets like Vietnam and Japan. I also had the honour of seeing our bilateral free trade agreements with Peru and Hong Kong come into effect as well as the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which will give our exporters access to a booming market of over 270 million people.
More recently, I signed the 15 nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which cements Australia’s place as an integrated regional partner of the 10 member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations. And, just a few weeks ago, we also saw the entry into force of the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations, which provides new opportunities for economic collaboration with our Pacific Island family.
We have also continued to forge ahead and have seen great progress with negotiations on our free trade deal with the European Union and earlier this year I had the honour of launching negotiations on an ambitious free trade agreement with the United Kingdom. Subject to each of these counterparts showing sufficient will to liberalise their markets, each of these agreements should be concluded within the next year.
In the past few years we have also seen stronger trade ties with India, which last week launched its own companion to our India Economic Strategy, and we continue to make headway in growing our trade engagement across the Middle-East and Africa, and in South America which will be further assisted if we can finalise our Pacific Alliance agreement with Latin American nations.
Our exporters have shown incredible resilience this year, despite massive economic shocks. With the collapse of global aviation when COVID-19 hit, we moved quickly to establish the International Freight Assistance Mechanism to help ensure that sufficient planes are flying out of Australia to get our premium goods to market. So far, it has helped more than $3.5 billion worth of Australian produce reach customers overseas and kept thousands of Australians in jobs.
This month, the Parliament passed landmark reforms to the 40 year old Export Market Development Grants (EMDG) Scheme that will cut red tape and better assist Australian exporters to enter new markets or expand their presence in existing markets.
Providing our farmers and businesses with access to more markets around the world has seen Australia record 34 consecutive monthly trade surpluses, with us routinely exporting more as a nation than we import. This, in turn, contributed in the June quarter last year to the first quarterly current account surplus for Australia since 1975.
We also shouldn’t discount the importance of Australia’s services sector to our economy and jobs. Australia doesn’t just export commodities and agricultural products, and whilst our tourism and international education sector has been severely impacted by COVID-19, our services sector grew to a record $102 billion in 2019. Although it will take a while to get back to these levels, we continue to pursue opportunities in a range of highly skilled capabilities like mining services, Fintech and AgTech that will help drive this recovery.
Likewise, we continue to drive and attract investment in emerging areas such as critical minerals like lithium and rare earths. I am also proud of the progress we have made in the hydrogen space, with a number of exciting and visionary projects already generating significant investment interest. These projects as well as close collaboration with partners such as Japan, South Korea and Germany mean we are well placed to be a world-leader in the production and export of hydrogen.
Australia also continues to lead the charge to modernise trading rules, having last year launched World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations on e-commerce and this year sealed a Digital Economy Agreement with Singapore that sets a standard for much of the rest of the world.
I am also proud of leading ambitions in the Cairns Group – a long-established coalition of 19 nations in the WTO – to pursue the aim of capping and halving agriculture subsidy entitlements by 2030. If achieved, this would be a great result for Australian farmers, some of the least subsidised in the world, by tackling unfair distortions that hurt us in many overseas markets.
It’s also no secret that the WTO itself needs modernising too. Australia played a leading role in forming the Multiparty Interim Appeal Arbitration Arrangement to maintain a pathway to resolve WTO disputes, which provides an important backstop in resolving current issues with China. We continue to actively advocate for WTO progress and reform wherever possible, because as a mid-sized trading nation it is demonstrably in our interests to have good global trade rules transparently applied.
On the tourism front, it’s no secret our amazing industry, including our intentional education sector, has been deeply impacted by COVID-19. Prior to last summer’s bushfires and COVID, Australia had achieved record international visitation of 8.7 million and international spend of $45.4 billion in 2019. We also surpassed our Tourism 2020 spend target a year early. As at December 2019, total visitor spend (domestic and international) had reached $126.1 billion.
We continue to implement our strong plan to support our tourism industry, through targeted assistance to specific sectors within the industry to help them rebound and save as many jobs as possible. In this year’s Budget, we also provided a record $231.6 million to Tourism Australia for 2020-21 to ramp up domestic marketing activities to encourage Australians to Holiday Here this Year, travel to bushfire affected areas and ensure the organisation is well placed to aggressively execute new campaigns to again attract international visitors when overseas travel is back on the agenda.
I thank Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Gee, previous Assistant Minister for Trade and Investment Mark Coulton and Assistant Minister for Regional Tourism Jonno Duniam for their support within the portfolio. I especially thank all the staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Austrade, Tourism Australia and Export Finance Australia for the incredible work they do here in Australia and overseas, as well as extending my gratitude to all of the Australian exporters, tourism operators and other stakeholders that I have had the pleasure of working with.
I know Dan Tehan will do an exceptional job as the new Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. As the Minister for Finance I look forward to working closely with him to continue to back our exporting farmers and businesses, attract necessary investment and to support our tourism industry to emerge from these challenging times stronger than ever.