International affairs

Outbound investment goes beyond cost savings

Australia seems perfectly situated to tap into two of the biggest and fastest-growing markets – China and India, Wesfarmers; AGL Non-Executive Director Diane Smith-Gander said at CEDA Western Australia's Outbound investment research release event.

“We’ve got geography on our side,” she said.

“We have comparative advantage in many of the products and services a burgeoning middle class in an emerging economy will demand.”

Ms Smith-Gander spoke about CEDA’s report findings that the benefits of outbound investment are many fold and go beyond cost savings.

“Through outbound investment we build information and contacts, have a higher level of integration in global value chains and ultimately, garner flow on effects in Australia to improve the quality of our available labour and generate faster economic growth,” she said.

“We think it’s a paradox that outbound investment is criticised by some commentators for moving jobs offshore.”

Ms Smith-Gander said CEDA’s recommendations from Outbound investment have the potential to ensure Australia takes full advantage of our outbound investment opportunities.

“The first recommendation is for Federal Government and it is relatively straightforward,” she said.

“We need to maintain strong international relationships with our trading partners.

“This is particularly relevant for us here in Western Australia in a state where in 2015-16 exports of goods and services accounted for 46 per cent of gross state product.”

Ms Smith-Gander also spoke about the set of recommendations focussed on creating food clusters in Australia.

“It has been argued that there is opportunity for Australia to become a premium food provider to Asia, including in the provision of high-quality, fresh and chilled food products,” she said.

“There’s a global population growth of 60 million people per year and that’s going to increase food demand, because as we know, as a middle class emerges there’s a well-trodden path up the protein demand chain.

“Some say we can’t participate in a dining boom because even if we double our food production we’re not going to feed very many more than 60 million Asians. 

“I think that’s the wrong way to think about it. 

“Doubling our production and the positive cost implications of that dynamic is what we should be focussing on. 

“And we know Asians, particularly Chinese are desperate for our products, they come down here and cart them away in suitcases.”

Speaking on Australia’s company tax rate, Ms Smith-Gander said Donald Trump’s commitment last week to a plan to deliver a big US company tax cut is just the latest warning that Australia is crippling itself in the global race for investment.

“Last week Donald Trump announced he’s heading for 15 per cent, so we are going to find ourselves behind the eight ball for the foreign investment that we need to grow our domestic economy, so that we can then do our own foreign outbound investment,” she said.

Ms Smith-Gander said that outbound investment is very worthy of being on the agenda.

“It’s important to support our small and open economy,” she said.

“It can help diversify our WA economy, giving us less volatility.

“I think it can deliver future proofing for our economy, by engaging with our near neighbours, who are the world’s emerging economic powerhouses."

Perth USAsia Centre Senior Fellow Ian Satchwell said Australia has a fair understanding of its trade relationships but lacks understanding of its international investment relationships.

“We don’t have data in Australia of what industries are investing in what countries,” he said.

“We need to understand that much better.”

Mr Satchwell said we’re also seeing a very interesting shift in the relationship between exports and sales from Australian majority owned affiliates in other countries.

“In the United States for example, sales by Australian majority owned firms are nearly four times our exports to the United States and the United States is our third largest exports market,” he said.

“So we’re missing a really important part of Australia’s relationship with other nations if we focus solely on exports and don’t really start to focus also on outward investment.”

Mr Satchwell said we only understand data on exports because other countries are measuring.

“We rely on the United States, the EU and New Zealand to tell us what’s happening,” he said.

“But when we try to look at Asia no one is measuring – we need to measure.

“We don’t know by country and by sector what our investment is in any of our Asian neighbours.

“Given our aspiration and our exposure we do need to know, it’s a major data gap.”

Mr Satchwell said Asia is Australia’s number one regional trade partner and we need to capture more data.

“We know very little about investment, and nothing about in-country sales,” he said.

“We certainly can’t manage if we are flying blind.”

Read and download Outbound investment to learn more.