JULIE BISHOP: Minister Liam Fox, Excellencies, friends of the Commonwealth. I am delighted to be here in London at this Commonwealth Business Forum in the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting taking place later this week.
I am particularly enthused by the resurgence of interest in the Commonwealth. The very best that the Commonwealth has to offer was on display in recent weeks in Australia as we hosted our fifth Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in Queensland. Over 6,600 athletes from 53 Commonwealth nations and 17 territories took part in one of the most friendly games one can imagine, elite sportsmen and women competing. I have to admit that Australia made the most of our hometown advantage.
The Commonwealth of Nations, this family of nations, has so much potential. 53 nations across six continents, a quarter of the membership of the United Nations, bound together by a commitment to a common set of values and principles - democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, gender equality, sustainable economic and social development. At this point I want to pay tribute to the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council for building the business links between nations of the Commonwealth.
The private sector drives economic growth and creates job opportunities, and thus drives prosperity and security. The Commonwealth nations have been growing exponentially. The GDP of our Commonwealth is now $10.7 trillion US dollars, said to expand to some $13 trillion by 2020.
Four of Australia’s top 10 trading partners are Commonwealth countries. Our two-way trade with the Commonwealth of Nations is about $152 billion, it’s grown by at least a third over the last decade.
Australia is an open export oriented market economy. We have benefited from open and free trade. Australia is entering our 27th consecutive year of uninterrupted economic growth. That is a world record, no other nation has achieved that, because we know that our standard of living, our economic growth, depends upon our ability to sell our goods and services into new markets and enhancing existing markets around the world. We know you do not get rich selling to yourself. That is why Australia believes strongly in promoting free trade, liberalised investment around the world.
It is worth remembering the work of the Commonwealth in establishing the international rules based order that underpins global prosperity today.
After World War I, the British Commonwealth of Nations, our predecessor of the modern Commonwealth, was at the heart of efforts to establish a global order to ensure that it was the “war to end all wars”, through the establishment of the League of Nations.
That, as we know, was a failure, with the advent of the Secord World War, but we learnt lessons. In the aftermath of the Second World War there was a collective will by nations to ensure that we could create a world out of chaos. Thus the international rules based order was established – that network of alliances, treaties and institutions underpinned by international law that has enabled the greatest growth in prosperity in living memory - hundreds of millions of people lifted out of poverty.
This international rules based order has served us so well in terms of economic growth, prosperity and security in under strain, is under challenge. Some nations choose to ignore it, others cherry-pick what they believe applies to them and what doesn’t. We believe that it is incumbent upon all nations to defend and strengthen and promote that international rules based order. In fact, it was a central theme in Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper which we released last November. Australia, in fact all Commonwealth nations, have been beneficiaries of this international rules based order.
While the United Nations is the preeminent institution there are many others that support economic prosperity and security. Australia’s strongly supports the World Trade Organization in setting up the global framework for free and open trade. We of course would prefer to see the lowering of tariffs within the WTO framework but in the absence of global consensus we work very hard to establish bilateral and regional agreements. I want to commend Commonwealth nations for doing likewise. We don’t have a Commonwealth free trade agreement, or Commonwealth free trade zone as such, but individual members have been promoting openness through formal regional trade agreements open and free trade and investment. Commonwealth nations through their regional agreements, but also trading amongst themselves, are reflecting the very best of open and free liberalised trade and investment.
Australia can share our experience. For example, we have international free trade agreements, major free trade agreements, with the main economies in our region of the Indo-Pacific - the United States, China, Japan, Korea. This has seen immense growth in our exports, in our investment profile.
We have concluded a free trade agreement, called the TPP-11, Transpacific Partnership 11, and that includes 6 Commonwealth Nations: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore. We hope to conclude a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with the 10 nations of the ASEAN countries together with China, Japan, Korea, India - and Australia. We have a free trade agreement with the 10 ASEAN countries, and with New Zealand, and that was applauded at our recent ASEAN Leaders Summit held for the first time with the leaders of the ASEAN countries in Sydney.
With the United Kingdom exiting the European Union we intend to pursue negotiations with the UK when the time is appropriate. In the meantime we will pursue a free trade agreement with the European Union. We have an ambitious agenda that includes India, Indonesia.
Australia is committed to open and free trade. In the face of anti-globalisation and the rise of protectionist sentiment including in the world’s largest economy in the United States. It is incumbent on us all to extoll the benefits of free trade and I think that the Commonwealth individually and collectively particularly small developing countries should be leading the debate on the benefits of free and open trade.
In fact, we should be the ones who extol the virtues for we have the most to gain. This group here today doesn’t only represent the individual nations of the Commonwealth, but the businesses, the professionals, the universities, the researchers, civil society. All of us have stories to tell and experiences to share about the benefits of open and free trade around the world and we need to stand against protectionism.
What we can do is defend the international rules based order, defend that global system. We can speak publically about it, we can encourage economic integration in our own regions and we can embrace the best business practices that encourage opportunity for women, for girls, because gender equality and gender empowerment is important in underpinning of local trade.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that the time is right for the Commonwealth to stand up and be a champion of free trade, for the benefit of us all.
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