Foreign Affairs and Trade: Investing in Regional Growth—2016-17

The Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio's objective is to help make Australia stronger, safer and more prosperous by promoting and protecting Australia's interests internationally and contributing to global stability and economic growth. A prosperous regional Australia is at the core of our national interest.

The Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio assists Australian companies to grow their international business by increasing trade opportunities and by helping them enter new markets. The recently signed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, for example, will work for regional Australia by opening-up access to a group of countries whose markets represent one third ($16.7 billion) of Australia's total exports of agricultural goods in 2015 ($49.5 billion). The World Trade Organization agreement in Nairobi in December 2015 to eliminate trade-distorting agricultural export subsidies is also a major win for Australian farmers.

Two-thirds of Australia's total export earnings come from regional industries. Where private financial markets are unable or unwilling to support regional business to take advantage of commercial export and overseas investment opportunities, the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio can provide practical support through working capital, insurance and other financial solutions.

Tourism is a major contributor to many regional economies as a significant source of income; 44 cents in every tourist dollar is spent in regional Australia. Working in partnership with State and Territory governments, industry and commercial partners, the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio is implementing programmes to build demand and increase visitor numbers and spending. This includes encouraging tourists to travel beyond our cities and into regional areas.

The Australian Government is working to drive regional growth by attracting foreign direct investment. Australia has a clear comparative advantage in agribusiness, resources and energy, all largely based in regional areas. In Northern Australia, the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio is working to attract investment in "gateway" infrastructure projects that will link Australia's north with the Indo Pacific region, improving our ability to trade and access international markets.

Recognising the importance of regional Australia, the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio has a significant presence across Australia through offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Austrade, Tourism Australia, the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation and over 1,600 Australia Post outlets delivering passport services. This is complemented by Australia's international diplomatic network, which advances Australia's national interests around the world, including connecting regional Australia to markets and investment opportunities.

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New Initiatives

Increasing our Diplomatic Footprint and Strengthening Australia's Ability to Trade and Attract Foreign Investment

The Australian Government will increase the nation's diplomatic footprint by opening an office in Lae (Papua New Guinea) and another post in China with the location to be announced after further consultations with China. In addition to providing consular services, these offices will support Australian small and medium sized enterprises seeking to expand their activities into these regions. In addition, Austrade will re-open its office in Tehran (Iran) to help Australian businesses take advantage of the commercial opportunities that will arise following the lifting of most of Australia's sanctions.

Helping Business Make the Most of Australia's Free Trade Agreements

Recently concluded Free Trade Agreements with the Republic of Korea, Japan and China will create new and larger markets for regional producers and service industries. Australian exporters and investors will have immediate and long-term advantages over competitors including: preferential access and large cuts to import tariffs in the beef and dairy sectors; more favourable import tariffs across the resources, energy and manufacturing sectors; and improved services access. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will enhance the Government's online Free Trade Agreement portal by extending it to all existing and new Free Trade Agreements.

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Current Initiatives

Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

In February 2016, the Australian Government concluded negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the largest trade deal concluded in 20 years. The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement will remove tariffs, provide common rules for trade, increase transparency of laws and regulations and reduce costs and red tape for Australian exporters, service suppliers and investors, beyond what existing Free Trade Agreements provide. The agricultural outcomes in particular have the potential to significantly increase commercial opportunities for regional Australia.

Trade Negotiations

The Australian Government is committed to further strengthen trade relationships and is working to progress agreements with India, Indonesia, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the European Union. Economic links in our region will be deepened through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations.

Through these negotiations, Australia is seeking new opportunities and certainty over operating conditions in sectors in which service suppliers in regional Australia have significant export potential—including higher education delivered in Australia and online, aged care and the array of services provided to the agricultural and mining industries.

World Trade Organization: Outcomes of Tenth Ministerial Meeting

The World Trade Organization agreement to eliminate trade-distorting agricultural export subsidies is a major win for Australian farmers. Export subsidies have long threatened the livelihoods of Australian farmers by artificially depressing world commodity prices. The agreement will end over $15 billion worth of agricultural export subsidy entitlements worldwide. This outcome is of historic importance and has been a core objective of Australian trade policy since the 1970s.

Beyond the agriculture sector, final agreement was also reached on the expansion of the product coverage of the multilateral World Trade Organization Information Technology Agreement. This outcome will see more than 50 developed and developing countries reduce or eliminate tariffs on over 200 information technology products.

Attracting Investment into Northern Australia

Austrade will work with northern jurisdictions to attract investment in "gateway" infrastructure projects that will link Australia's north with the Indo-Pacific region, improving our ability to trade and access international markets. Greater engagement will also enhance regional productivity by providing the region's businesses with a more open and predictable business environment, which is being encouraged by the regulatory harmonisation and economic reform initiatives in Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) connectivity agendas.

Labour Mobility

The Australian Government's Seasonal Workers Programme, led by the Department of Employment and supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, assists Australian employers meet low-skilled labour shortages. The Australian Government's Seasonal Workers Programme allows workers from participating Pacific Island countries to undertake seasonal work in Australia's agriculture, accommodation and tourism industries. In February 2016, the Government expanded the Australian Government's Seasonal Workers Programme to the broader agricultural sector, including cattle, sheep, grain and mixed enterprises. The Northern Australian tourism industry has also been invited to join. The Seasonal Workers Programme plays a key role in addressing labour shortages in regional Australia, supporting Australian businesses and helping to grow regional economies.

In addition, the Pacific Microstates—Northern Australia Worker Pilot, led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, was announced in the Developing Northern Australia White Paper and will bring up to 250 workers from Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu to Northern Australia for up to three years to work in lower-skilled industries experiencing labour shortages. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is negotiating arrangements with employers in the aged care and hospitality industries, and expects the first workers to arrive in 2016.

EficDirect

In line with the Australian Government's focus on making it easier for Australian small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to do business, the Export Credit Agency (Efic) has developed an online platform that allows SMEs to apply for export finance entirely online. The platform—called "EficDirect"—has a quick, simple and efficient application process, which can be completed in as little as 30 minutes and with a loan being provided within nine business days. Online accessibility will be particularly beneficial for SME exporters that are based in remote areas of Australia.

International Agricultural Research

The Australian Government is committed to improving agricultural productivity and profitability throughout the Indo-Pacific region, with significant flow-on benefits for regional Australia in areas such as biosecurity, innovation, technology, research capabilities and trade. Through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Australia's world class agricultural researchers in a range of state and Commonwealth agencies, universities and the private sector are working with counterparts in developing countries to enhance and promote agricultural competitiveness and sustainability, increased market access, and value-chain efficiencies and effectiveness. These benefits also flow back to Australia's agricultural industries.

New Colombo Plan

The Australian Government's New Colombo Plan gives undergraduates from around Australia the opportunity to participate in study and internship programmes in the Indo-Pacific region. Since 2014, over 20 per cent of New Colombo Plan scholarship recipients have been from regional and remote areas. Numbers of grants provided to regional universities under the New Colombo Plan are growing each year. The Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio will continue to promote the benefits of the New Colombo Plan in deepening relationships between Australia and the region, both at the individual level and through expanding university, business and other links.

Export Market Development Grants Scheme

The Australian Government will encourage regional businesses to increase their international marketing and promotion expenditure to achieve more sustainable international sales. The Export Market Development Grants scheme, administered by Austrade, is an Australian Government financial assistance programme for small and medium sized export-ready businesses. It also provides businesses with an opportunity to enter and embed themselves in global value chains—something that encompasses 80 per cent of global trade.

Of the 2,943 grants paid in 2014-15 (relating to eligible export promotion expenditure incurred in 2012-13) 15 per cent were awarded to recipients from regional Australia. Grants provided $16.0 million in financial support to 441 regional recipients.

TradeStart

TradeStart delivers Austrade's export advisory services through local public sector and industry organisations throughout Australia. The prime objective of the TradeStart network is to assist export ready small and medium sized enterprises to develop international markets for their products and services.

Of the 27 TradeStart locations, 21 are in regional areas, providing greater access to Austrade services for businesses in these regions. TradeStart advisers provide practical export advice to around 2,000 export-ready companies throughout Australia each year, and work closely with the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio's international network to facilitate assistance for these exporters in overseas markets.

Promoting Foreign Direct Investment

The Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio will continue to build on its investment promotion work, which was strengthened in 2015 with new funding of $30.0 million over four years. Austrade and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to promote Australia's credentials and develop our position as a preferred investment destination.

Australia Week Events

The Australian Government will continue to create opportunities for businesses from regional and metropolitan areas to build and expand their business ties overseas. To further this commitment Austrade will deliver large business focused missions in important markets to showcase Australian capabilities and investment opportunities and promote Australia as a world class tourism destination and education partner. This will build on the success of Australia Week in China, the Australia Business Week in India, the Indonesia Australia Business Week and the Australia US Business Week events held to date.

Tourism

Tourism 2020 is Australia's national tourism strategy to grow the value of the tourism industry to over $115 billion in overnight visitor expenditure by the end of the decade. Through Austrade, the Australian Government is implementing initiatives such as Tourism Employment Plans, Major Project Facilitation, the Tourism Demand-Driver Infrastructure Programme, and the Tasmanian Regional Tourism Fund. Supported by ongoing campaign promotions and tourism research, these programmes will create opportunities for regional and remote communities to grow jobs, diversify their economic base, and generate higher standards of living.

Further practical Australian Government initiatives such as Tourism Employment Plans are focused on delivering strategies to ease the labour and skills pressures facing industry and improving the capability and capacity of regional businesses to build a skilled workforce. Seven pilot plans have been completed to date, addressing industry recruitment, retention and up-skilling needs across Broome, Red Centre, Mornington Peninsula-Phillip Island, Kangaroo Island, Tropical North Queensland and Canberra. One more pilot will be delivered this year in North-West and West Coast Tasmania, concluding in June 2016.

"There's nothing like Australia" is the Australian Government's global marketing campaign highlighting the best attractions and experiences Australian tourism has to offer. The current phase of the campaign focuses on promoting our highly regarded beach, coastal and inland aquatic tourism experiences, for example, Queensland's Great Barrier Reef and Victoria's Great Ocean Road. The Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio will also continue the Restaurant Australia campaign which resonates strongly in regional Australia.

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