The Abacus

The Second Opening UpA Report from the Biggest Trade Fair in History

By: Hon John Brumby AO, National President

This week I joined more than 160 Australian businesses in Shanghai as they showcased their products and services at the biggest trade fair in the world—the China International Import Expo (CIIE).  I was able to experience first-hand this amazing event, which dwarfed any trade fair or convention previously undertaken.  Australia was well represented by our Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, as well as State and Territory leaders.
The Shanghai Exhibition Centre covers an area the size of around 30 MCGs.  Goods on display ranged from electric vehicles through to dairy, food and wine, IT, pharmaceuticals, AI and much, much more.  The number of Chinese companies and buyers attending was staggering.  On the first day, nearly half a million registered delegates attended.  Victoria’s sister state Jiangsu Province alone sent more than 50,000 buyers to the Expo, while Sichuan Province sent 7,000 and our sister city Tianjin more than 5,000.  Australian companies such as Aussie Post, Coles, Swiss, Ego, Laurent and de Bortoli, as well as many of our universities, all made the most of the opportunities on offer.  
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of China’s great ‘opening up’.  In his opening speech at CIIE, President Xi Jinping committed China to further reform, announcing five major new initiatives to expand imports and trade more generally.  In my view, these commitments—combined with the power of the Expo itself—are as important to future world growth as was China’s original opening up back in 1978.  
When Deng Xiaoping opened China to the world, China’s GDP ($150b) was only a little larger than that of Australia ($120b).   So while opening up created many new opportunities, and led to the biggest and fastest growth trajectory in history, it was off a relatively small economic base.  Today, China’s economy measures more than $US13 trillion and in purchasing power terms (PPP) is already nearly 15 per cent larger than the US.   So the new opportunities opening up for Australian companies are truly extraordinary.
As President of the Australia China Business Council (ACBC) and Special Envoy for Victoria, I attended high level meetings with the leaders of Jiangsu Province, Sichuan Province, Chengdu and Tianjin.  Victoria has long standing friendships and economic agreements in place with each of these Provinces and cities.  In our meetings, we discussed trade as well as the new opportunities for growth and investment through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  Chinese leaders see BRI as a key mechanism to help lift hundreds of millions in our region out of poverty, through shared investment in infrastructure such as ports, rail, water, sewerage and health care.  Each of the leaders we met welcomed Victoria’s recent formal commitment to BRI, saying it would help generate growth and trade and lift millions out of poverty.
Throughout the forty five year history of the ACBC we have always supported initiatives that provide for freer trade and increased investment in economic and social infrastructure in our region.  And we have always supported closer co-operation and friendship agreements, such as the Victoria-Jiangsu Sister State Agreement entered into nearly forty years ago by then Premier Dick Hamer.  For this reason, ACBC is a strong and unambiguous supporter of BRI.  Already, more than 60 countries around the world have joined the BRI and many projects are underway.  In the Indo Pacific region, where hundreds of millions of people still live in abject poverty with no sewerage, electricity or health services, BRI will make a tangible difference to the lives of tens of millions.  For Victoria and Australia, it offers us the chance to contribute to great social good, while at the same time creating new jobs and opportunities back here.  BRI is a win-win for all concerned.
This week, along with thousands of Australian visitors, we saw the new China in action: hungry for new products and services, and eager to lift economic growth in the region and the world.  At a time of increased protectionism in the global economy, I am more convinced than ever that Australia must be on the front foot in seizing the opportunities arising from a China that continues to reform and open up to the world.


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