SON 2017: Australia doesn’t have the choice to become protectionist

Australia does not have the choice that America may have in the short term to become protectionist, Business Council of Australia President, Grant King told a CEDA audience at State of the Nation in Canberra.

“We have no choice but to be an open and competitive economy, we’re very reliant on trade,” he said.

“There’s about $5.5 trillion of stock in Australia and about 60 per cent is foreign investment.”

Mr King said the role of the government is to create a competitive environment for businesses.

“Business has really deployed the capital which has driven the large export opportunities in Australia and will most likely continue to do so,” he said.

“Ninety per cent of the exports that we make as a country are provided through Australia’s largest business enterprises.

“We have to maintain a competitive environment in order to attract the capital and to develop the resources to export.”


Mr King said Australia’s growing reputation as unpredictable could be damaging its international trade relationships.

“Reliable, predictable and competitive are better descriptors of Australia’s brand,” he said.

“I don’t think Australia’s reputation as a wonderful country is at all damaged.

“But at the end of the day if you’re investing billions and billions of dollars in an environment that is seeming more capricious – that is what is damaging Australia’s brand.”

Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Deputy Secretary, Justin Brown said the US approach to trade is far less predictable.

“For Australia, we’ve got a lot of work to do, to protect our interests in the US market, let alone to protect the global trading system,” he said.

“Clearly we’re going to have to build coalitions with other countries to keep the trade liberalising caravan rolling.

“The days are gone where nothing could happen without the US but it’s still the case that the US is an important player.”

On the topic of national branding, Mr Brown said smaller countries like New Zealand find it much easier than a larger country like Australia.

“It’s a lot easier for small countries to specialise and define their brand, for larger countries I think it’s more of a challenge,” he said.

"I think it’s very desirable that we have a clear national brand.”

Former Australian Ambassador to China, Dr Geoff Raby said Australia’s clean and green reputation was ideal for its relationship with China.

“I think Australia’s clean, green brand means very expensive food on the supermarket shelves in China,” he said.

“Their own safety standards are so terrible and nobody trusts their own food.

“The most important thing is that our own regulatory standards remain as such so they don’t undermine that image.

“Once you’re on that pedestal it’s easy to fall off.”

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On the blog: Australia cannot turn its back on trade | Business Council of Australia President, Grant King

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