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World Trade Organization

WTO Trade Policy Review of Australia 2020 - Opening Statement

11 and 13 March 2020

Australia Opening Statement


On behalf of Australia, I welcome our Eighth Trade Policy Review.

Australia has always played a pioneering role in the Trade Policy Review process. Australia volunteered to be the first country to undergo a Review in 1989. We consider it a crucial process for ensuring the multilateral trading system’s foundational values of accountability, predictability and transparency. In the circumstances we find ourselves in today with concerns about the prevalence of coronavirus here in Geneva, we again are playing a pioneering role, by becoming the first country to experience what we might term a “virtual TPR”. While our colleagues could not all be here, their engagement through the interactive process leading up to today has been very extensive, and we thank them for that high level of engagement. WTO Members posed almost 600 questions to us, and we have endeavoured to meet the highest standards of transparency in our responses.

I would of course wish to extend particular thanks to Ambassador Julian Braithwaite, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom, whom we are honoured to have as our discussant. I would also like to provide special thanks to the WTO Secretariat for its comprehensive report on our trade and economic policies.

Trade matters to Australia, and that’s why we invest so heavily in the World Trade Organization. Australia’s economy is highly integrated with the global economy, particularly the Indo-Pacific region. Australia’s trade with the world is equivalent to a record 46 per cent of our GDP, compared to 40 per cent in 2015, and one in five jobs is now driven by trade.

Australia’s economic environment

The Secretariat’s report on Australia's trade policies highlights the strength and resilience of the Australian economy in the face of transformations in the global economic landscape. In fact, in the thirty years since our first Trade Policy Review, Australia’s open, globalised economy has enjoyed 29 years of uninterrupted growth.

This remarkable achievement is due to careful economic policy management and the successful fostering of an internationally competitive, outward-looking economy. These efforts have helped counter the effects of recent international and domestic challenges, including international trade tensions and other challenges such as the impact of recent bushfires and the ongoing costs of the coronavirus outbreak.

Australia continues to provide the world-class produce, merchandise and tourism experiences we have long been famous for – our recovery is well underway and we are open for business.

Developments in Australia’s economy

During the period of the review, the Australian economy has continued to internationalise. Our exports grew from AUD323 billion in 2015 to AUD437 billion in 2018. The division between our services and commodity exports is also blurring. Increasingly services and technology are embedded across all of Australia’s export sectors and underpin future growth prospects.

While Australia is well known for being among the top 10 agricultural exporters in the world, we are also now a world-class provider of professional services, financial services, energy and mining-related services, environmental services and financial technology.

Australia’s manufacturing sector is transforming, with our linkages to global value chains increasing. High value-added products and related services becoming increasingly embodied in activity across the entire economy, including in the resources exporting sector.

Inward foreign investment is a key driver of Australia’s economy, and we also have very significant stocks of outward foreign investment. Australia’s considerable and diverse resources reserves, highly developed skills and technology base, proximity to fast-growing markets, and strong rule of law make it an attractive destination for foreign investment.

Australia has also sought to strengthen the competitiveness and overall performance of our economy through a range of reforms and regulatory changes. These include strengthening competition and consumer legislation, tax reform, increasing infrastructure investment, and reforming the regulatory environment for small and medium business to minimise regulatory burden. We have also put in place a plan for development of the digital economy, and established a process designed to boost the competitiveness of Australia’s services sector.

Support for the multilateral trading system

During these dynamic times, Australia remains strongly committed to the multilateral trading system. The hallmarks of our approach are a commitment to rules a commitment to openness. The WTO, its rules, and dispute settlement framework have enduring value and are essential to the stability of Australia’s external economic environment.

Engagement in WTO reform

Australia is actively supporting efforts to ensure the WTO remains at the core of a well-functioning global trading system in the future. Updating the WTO rulebook, maintaining an effective dispute settlement system and addressing institutional challenges are Australia’s highest priorities.

Most immediately, we are focused on finding a way forward on the Appellate Body with the goal of preserving confidence in the WTO’s dispute settlement system and its two-tier review mechanism. A successful multilateral outcome will only be developed with the serious buy-in of all WTO Members, developed and developing. And we stand ready to find a way forward – working with all WTO Members.

Australia is also firmly committed to updating the WTO’s rulebook to ensure the Organization remains relevant to business and the modern, global economy. We have been, and will continue to be, consistent policy leaders across much of the negotiating agenda.

Australia has been a constructive and engaged participant in the fisheries subsidies negotiations. We need to push hard to secure an outcome by MC12 that will offer new disciplines on fisheries subsidies. That’s important for trade – but also for environmental sustainability.

Australia actively participates in all the Joint Statement Initiatives which we consider vital to injecting much needed momentum into the WTOs negotiating function. We have been driving efforts to conclude negotiations on services domestic regulation at MC12, which will benefit services suppliers globally.

Australia, along with Japan and Singapore, is also a co-convenor of the E-commerce JSI and Ambassador Lisson has ably and effectively chaired these important negotiations to the point they are at today. In today’s technology-driven global economy, WTO rules for global digital trade, worth over US 29 trillion dollars in 2017 are essential to help unlock the economic potential of digital trade for all WTO Members.

And we are an active participant in the initiatives on investment facilitation and micro small and medium enterprises.

As chair of the Cairns Group coalition we are working to reset the global discussions on trade-distorting agricultural domestic support. As a competitive and productive agricultural exporter, we need market-oriented and transparent agricultural trading rules to deliver a fair trading environment. If we do not act now, domestic support entitlements for agriculture could be over two trillion U.S. dollars by 2030.

These rules underpin the livelihood of Australia’s rural communities, and our economic prosperity more broadly. That is why we need to prevent the very significant distortions that such levels of support could have on trade in agriculture.

Support to developing countries

Australia prioritises support for developing countries to maximise the benefits for all of international trade. We have been a strong supporter of the Global Aid for Trade Initiative since it began in 2005.

In line with the Sustainable Development Goals, the Australian Government set a target in June 2014 to increase Australia's aid for trade investments to 20 per cent of the total aid budget by 2020. Australia achieved its target ahead of schedule in 2016-17, and has met it every year since.

A key element of our aid for trade program is supporting developing countries to undertake trade facilitation reforms in line with the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation. To date, we have contributed over $11 million to support this work.

Australia also continues to integrate gender equality and women’s economic empowerment into our aid for trade investments to support more women to participate fully and effectively in trade.

Free Trade Agreements

As a nation that relies on trade with the world for its economic prosperity, Australia has continued to pursue ambitious and WTO-consistent free trade agreements to secure significant new market access, create investment opportunities and stimulate our competitiveness. Australia’s high quality FTAs also aim to serve as building blocks for wider multilateral liberalisation.

Since our last Trade Policy Review, new Australian FTAs have entered into force such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and bilateral FTAs with China, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Peru. Australia has also concluded free trade agreements with Indonesia and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Partnership Plus (PACER Plus).

As a result, over 70 per cent of Australia’s two-way goods and services trade is now with countries with whom we have an in-force free trade agreement – a significant expansion on the 2013 figure of 26.8 per cent.

This figure will continue to grow. Australia is currently engaged in active bilateral FTA negotiations with the European Union, and regional FTA negotiations within the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and with the Pacific Alliance. Australia aims to expand Australia’s current network of free trade agreements to have around 90 percent of our two-way trade covered by FTAs by 2022. All of these agreements of course build on, and reinforce, WTO rules and principles.

Concluding remarks

In conclusion, Australia remains a staunch advocate for an open international economy. We will continue to stand against protectionism and to promote and defend the international trade rules that guard against unfair trade actions and help to resolve disputes.

As a medium-sized nation that depends heavily on openness in world trade, Australia will continue to have a major interest in preserving and building upon the strength of the rules-based multilateral trading system with the WTO at its centre.

Australia welcomes the valuable engagement and contributions by our Chair, Ambassador Teehankee, and our discussant, Ambassador Braithwaite, during our Review. We are especially grateful to those other WTO Members who have continued to engage with us so constructively and informatively throughout the course of our TPR. Thank you.

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