Ambassador Ritchie, ladies and gentleman. I am absolutely delighted to be in Switzerland. It’s not my first visit. In a previous life, before I went into politics, when I had time to do much more glamorous things, I would come skiing here every opportunity I had. It really is wonderful to be back here in my capacity as Foreign Minister of Australia and to meet with so many representatives of companies that invest in Australia.
The two-way trade and investment relationship between Switzerland and Australia is very strong. In fact, Switzerland is our fifth largest source of foreign direct investment and sixth largest investor overall. It’s a relationship that has so much opportunity, so much potential.
The new Australian Government is determined to focus our foreign and trade policy on what we call economic diplomacy. Just as traditional diplomacy aimed for peace, economic diplomacy aims for peace and prosperity. We have a very ambitious trade and investment agenda.
As you know, Australia is located right in the heart of the Asia-Pacific – the area of such significant economic growth in recent times. We are pursuing a very ambitious free trade agenda, have about seven free trade agreements in place currently, including with the USA, the ASEAN countries, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and we’ve just concluded a free trade agreement with South Korea. We have free trade agreements with China and Japan underway and also with the Gulf Cooperation Council, the EU and others.
The Prime Minister is leading a delegation to China shortly and it will be the largest business, trade and investment delegation to be in China for a very long time. We have over 600 delegates including every one of our state premiers accompanying the Prime Minister to Shanghai, Beijing and we will be going to the Bao Forum. So, for businesses that are looking to invest in the Asia Pacific, Australia has great connections, credentials and networks in Asia. If you’re looking to put a regional headquarters somewhere, I can recommend Sydney, or Perth. I actually come from there, so for all of those in the mining, resource and energy industries, Western Australia is where you should be.
This year we are hosting the G20 in Brisbane and I have taken to describing Australia as a top 20 country, because when it comes to any economic indicator that counts, Australia is in the top 20. For example, in terms of outward bound foreign investment, we’re number 15; inbound foreign investment, Australia’s 13th in the world; we have the 12th largest economy; the 10th largest stock exchange; the 5th most resilient economy – how they judge that, I have no idea. I guess it’s because we are about to enter our 23rd consecutive year of growth and we are also the 4th largest economy in Asia after China, Japan and South Korea. And we have the third largest pool of investment stocks under management.
We are number one when it comes to the proportion of the population that has net worth over US$100,000 – very egalitarian. And we are one of the easiest places to do business and we have one of the best regulatory environments for doing business. Recently the BBC confirmed that Australia is a superpower – it was a lifestyle superpower, but nevertheless, I thought that would count.
The visit to Western Europe this week has essentially focused on my attendance at the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands, and that was somewhat distracted by the G7’s meeting. But Australia is also considered to be the world’s leader in nuclear security, which might surprise some, because we don’t have nuclear weapons, we certainly don’t have nuclear power, but we have the world’s largest reserves of uranium. We’re the third largest producer of uranium and we have a research reactor. But, in terms of our securing of nuclear materials, we considered number one.
Then on Wednesday, I spent the day in Geneva where Australians are taking part in some very exciting work in some of the multilateral organisations that are based in Geneva. In fact I was quite surprised to find so many Australians operating at such a high level with the UN, the WTO and elsewhere.
But today has been focused very much on the trade and investment relationship at a bilateral level with Switzerland.
We spent the day with President Burkhalter in his hometown and we spoke about some exciting projects that Australia and Switzerland are going to pursue under a strategic agreement that the President and I signed in Canberra last October. We are updating the double taxation agreement between Australia and Switzerland, we’ve signed an MOU on science and research and innovation, we are looking at things like a working holiday visa for young Swiss people, we’d love young Swiss people to come to Australia. So, lots of opportunities to enhance our trade and investment across a broad range of areas.
But also as likeminded friends – the Swiss are very independent, so are we, we are very independent. And there are a number of areas where we feel that we can cooperate. We’re even talking about co-locating our overseas presence, our embassies in some places.
Switzerland is in parts of the world where Australia is not, and Australia has representation in parts of the world where Switzerland does not. And that shows the level of trust, the level of cooperation - it’s very hard to create. It already exists between Australia and Switzerland. Under President Burkhalter, I am sure that we will be able to pursue some of these exciting bilateral opportunities.
So, I am so pleased that you have been able to be here this evening. I hope I have the opportunity to meet with you all. Please, find out more about Australia, if you have any questions, the Ambassador is here to answer them all. But in the meantime, I have absolutely no doubt that the best days of the Australia-Switzerland relationship lie ahead of us.
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