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Over 300 attendees joined ACBC Victoria and the China Chamber of Commerce in Australia (Melbourne) at a gala dinner on 24 November to mark the first year of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement. Held at the Park Hyatt, the event provided an opportunity to celebrate Australia and China’s ever expanding, multi-billion-dollar, bilateral trade and investment relationship.
The event’s proceedings began with a welcome from ACBC Victoria President, The Hon Ken Smith. This was followed by the entrance of the official party and the performance of the Australian and Chinese national anthems. Mr Paul Li, President of the CCCA in Melbourne, then introduced the evening. Afterwards, Ken introduced the first speaker of the night, Tasmanian Minister for State Growth, The Hon Matthew Groom.
Matthew began by highlighting how important it is that we celebrate the successes of free trade agreements and proceeded to outline some of the positive outcomes that have occurred in Tasmania as a result of the ChAFTA. Tasmania has recently transitioned from a state in recession, to one experiencing strong growth. Engagement with China has played an important role in the state’s change in fortune. China is Tasmania’s largest export market, with trade increasing by $318 billion dollars or 48.8 per cent in the year to 2016. Matthew underlined that huge growth potential remains as eCommerce paves the way for SMEs into the Chinese market. This in combination with interest in Tasmania’s premium produce and tourism offering can mean the long-term development of sustainable trade between the state and China.
Following a musical performance, Ken introduced the first keynote speech of the night from the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China, H.E. Cheng Jingye. The Ambassador began by stating that the ChAFTA is a comprehensive, high quality free trade agreement of balanced interests for both countries. The implementation of the ChAFTA over the past year has injected new impetus to trade and investment between our two countries and while the agreement facilitates the flow of commodities, goods, services and capital, it has also greatly strengthened people-to-people links. The number of visitors and students from China reached a historic high this year and the number of students in China under the New Colombo Plan has hit a record high of over 1000, with China the largest destination country in this program.
The Ambassador then moved on to express that China is prepared to work with Australia to step up efforts to promote the ChAFTA and further implement the agreement in areas such as services, investment, agriculture and facilitating people’s movement, so that great benefits can be reaped and delivered to people in both countries.
The Ambassador also mentioned opportunities for further bilateral, economic cooperation and trade in the development of the One Belt One Road Initiative. In his speech to the Australian Parliament in 2014, President Xi Jinping noted that Oceania is a natural extension of the Ancient Maritime Silk Road and China welcomes Australia’s participation in the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Moreover, during the 2015 China Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue the two sides agreed on building synergy between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Australia’s plan to develop Northern Australia. The economies of China and Australia are highly complementary and it is hoped that both sides will build greater synergy and advance cooperation in infrastructure construction, production capacity, agriculture, finance and innovation and will actively explore possibilities in developing third party markets.
The Ambassador concluded by communicating China and Victoria’s history of friendly exchanges. Our relationship is about more than just purchases and transactions, but also partnership and trust. As long as the two sides embrace the opportunities of the ChAFTA and the Belt and Road Initiative, the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Australia will be further enhanced. Additionally, mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries will surely open up new horizons.
Our second keynote speaker, former Trade Minister, The Hon Andrew Robb AO was then welcomed by Ken. Andrew began by emphasising the importance of utilising the free trade infrastructure that has been put in place by the ChAFTA. He also underlined that the progress that has been made since the entry into force of the agreement is extremely encouraging.
Andrew continued by mentioning that the night’s event celebrating free trade was instructive, particularly in light of recent moves around the world towards protectionism. What has been achieved by the ChAFTA has been a great step forward. The re-emerging Asian region has been liberalising in a significant way and the ChAFTA is a comprehensive agreement that any country in the word would be proud to have achieved. It will bring about material benefits not just to the economies of both our countries but also has the potential to contribute to peace and harmony in our region.
Further, free trade agreements and the broader context of globalisation was discussed. The structural shifts taking place overwhelmingly benefit the community. However, there are certain pockets who lose. Yet globalisation cannot be reversed. What is required in response is a renewed and effective commitment to helping the certain pockets who lose from globalisation, obtain satisfactory and fulfilling opportunities.
Andrew moved on to emphasise how China is an example of the benefits of liberalising markets and how China is moving to expand these benefits abroad. In particular, Australia’s involvement in the One Belt One Road Initiative will provide opportunities for businesses, not only centred on economic infrastructure, but also social infrastructure which plays to our key strengths in education, health, aged care, financial services, engineering and so on.
Additionally, Andrew highlighted that Australia must focus on what we are good at. This means providing our gold standard, premium goods and services to China’s growing middle class. The ChAFTA provides a great number of prospects in this area, which are not yet available to other parts of the world. We have barely begun on the opportunities that ChAFTA can unlock. As we build trust and mutual respect, as well as familiarity with our respective cultures and ways of doing business, so much more is possible to build prosperity and goodwill between our two nations.
The night’s proceedings concluded with a vote of thanks from Ken Smith followed by further networking opportunities.
ACBC Victoria warmly thanks the Ambassador and Andrew Robb for their attendance. We also kindly thank our Major Sponsors of the evening, EMR Capital, NewCity, PwC and Qenos.
We extend our thanks to all our Corporate Partners who purchased tables, as well as all other attendees. Finally, we thank CCCA Melbourne for their partnership in organising the event.