His Excellency Reuben Levermore, New Zealand Ambassador to the Philippines.
The Honourable Delia Lawrie, Northern Territory Minister for Asian Relations, Trade, and Business and Employment – Treasurer and Deputy Chief Minister – whose presence at this forum is an affirmation of the significance of the Philippines to Australia, and a tangible illustration that this truth applies across our federal system at central and provincial levels.
Undersecretary Cristino Panlilio, Department of Trade and Industry.
Distinguished guests, and other friends from Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines.
It is a great pleasure for me to be here today representing the Australian Government at this important event.
Australia’s Trade Minister, Dr Craig Emerson, has asked me to pass on his congratulations to ANZCHAM for having the vision to launch the inaugural Philippines Australia New Zealand Business Forum.
On behalf of the Minister, I have been asked to read out the following short statement:
And I quote:
“In developing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, the Australian Government worked closely with business and achieved what is widely regarded as a gold standard FTA.
We are keen to continue to partner with business to capitalise on the opportunities AANZFTA presents, and this forum will play no small role in this endeavour.
ANZCHAM is to be commended for its ongoing efforts in supporting and promoting deeper business relations between Australia and the Philippines.”
I would like to reinforce Dr Emerson’s message. The development of this forum has been a great initiative. It is good to see so many businesses represented and engaged today. Well done, ANZCHAM.
I also echo Dr Emerson’s remarks about the significance of successfully concluding such a high quality regional FTA as AANZFTA – a process with which I am closely familiar from my time as Ambassador to Vietnam.
Around the region, the comment that is most regularly made about AANZFTA is that it is an FTA that is delivering in developing the capacity of ASEAN countries.
As many of you here will know, AANZFTA is built on three pillars:
- trade liberalisation;
- investment liberalisation; and
- capacity building.
I am unaware of any other regional agreement which has realised such a high level of ambition, in both trade and investment liberalisation, but also in its commitment to building the capacity of ASEAN countries like the Philippines.
But establishing AANZFTA is just the first step.
Now, the challenge for all of us is to take full advantage of the opportunities that this FTA presents.
Early signs for the Philippines are promising. It has the highest uptake of AANZFTA in ASEAN. And in 2010-11, total two-way trade between Australia and the Philippines grew by 19 per cent to almost $3bn.
In addition to the economic activity generated in the Philippines thanks to AANZFTA, the Australian Government is supporting the Aquino Administration’s agenda to build prosperity throughout the Philippines in other ways.
We do this through a number of channels, including via our development cooperation program – Australia is now the largest bilateral grant donor to the Philippines.
But while our development assistance is making an excellent contribution, I am firmly of the view that lasting prosperity depends on a vibrant business environment that supports job creation.
A recurring theme you will hear from me over the period of my time as Ambassador is that Government does not do business – business does business.
The Government’s role is to support business; to help set the enabling environment for business to flourish. If Governments can successfully do this - then the economy will grow, jobs will be created and poverty will be reduced.
And the Embassy is here to assist and advocate on behalf of Australian business. Our expectation of ourselves is that we must be responsive NOT just reactive to the needs of Australian business and in staying alert to the emerging issues within the Philippines that affect our common interests.
The development of a new mining policy by the Philippine Government and the future of the Tampakan Project are examples of where the Embassy – including me as Ambassador – has made strong representations to policy makers. We will continue to do so.
In doing so, we underline the opportunity that the new mining policy presents for the government to establish regulatory certainty for the sector.
In my introductory calls – and media appearances - I continue to highlight the key contribution the mining sector has made to Australia’s economic success over the past two decades.
And it is quite a success story: over 20 years of uninterrupted economic growth, consistently low inflation and unemployment, a modern and flexible economy which sells many of the things that the emerging giants of Asia will need for years to come.
Mining – undertaken responsibly and sustainably – has played a key role in all this, generating significant benefits for Australia: jobs, exports and technological innovation to name but three.
And we think that mining – conducted responsibly, sustainably and hand-in-hand with local communities – has the potential to do the same in the Philippines.
A little bit about the Embassy I am proud to lead. There are eight agencies represented, with some 140 staff, and many of them have roles directly or indirectly relevant to the need of the Australian business community:
Our political/economic staff undertake the policy and economic analysis that guides our advocacy on economic and trade policy matters. Nick McCaffrey and Catherine Rees are the key contacts.
Our Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner, Anthony Weymouth, oversees a team of 11 who work to promote commercial opportunities between our two countries. [Anthony is here today and I would encourage those of you who have not already done so to meet him during the forum.]
Graeme Tinney of DFAT leads the section responsible for meeting the consular [and passport] needs of Australian residents of and travellers to the Philippines – in addition to the administrative, IT and security requirements of the Embassy.
The team from Australia’s development cooperation agency AusAID – headed by Octavia Borthwick - continues to work closely with the Philippine Government to support its governance and anti-corruption agenda. AusAID is also playing a key role supporting the K-12 transition in the education system of the Philippines.
The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) – led in the Philippines by Cecelia Honrado - is implementing a number of world class tropical fruit projects – these are assisting Filipino farmers to get their product to market.
Work undertaken by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) in Manila – under Frank Lodge’s leadership - is critical to facilitating and building further our people-to-people links.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) team headed by Jane Dickinson works closely with Philippine security agencies to tackle a range of serious issues. The AFP continues to deliver capacity-building training to the Philippines National Police – this has made a positive difference to results on the ground.
The Australian Defence Force and the Armed Forces of the Philippines enjoy a relationship that dates back to World War II. It is based on education and training opportunities and capability building activities aimed at ensuring our region remains safe and secure. The Defence team in the Embassy is led by Craig White.
And lastly, but not least, the Infrastructure Section at the Embassy led by Carrie-Anne Henderson engages closely with its Philippine counterparts to improve regulatory standards and practices in the local transport industry. This is achieved through targeted capacity building assistance, which has also made a positive difference.
My staff and I will continue to engage closely with the business chambers. This engagement has the two-fold benefits of helping us to stay better informed and to enhance our credibility when we speak to host governments about Australian business needs.
We can say with hand on heart that we know a particular issue matters to Australian business – because Australian business individually and through their chamber have told us so.
Having served as Head of Mission on three previous occasions – all of them in Asia – I understand the imperative of working closely with Australian business and will again seek to do this in Manila.
As I was preparing for this assignment, I travelled across Australia meeting businesses that had interests in the Philippines. I heard the many reasons why business was choosing to partner with, and seek opportunities to invest in, the Philippines.
I was told that the Philippines has many advantages. Four themes recurred:
- The standard of English
- The general level of education
- A service ethic; and
- The portability and mobility of the workforce
Add to that list, the country’s natural beauty and its immense mineral and resources wealth, and we begin to understand the enormous opportunities for Australian and New Zealand business.
And there are natural complementarities between these Philippine characteristics and the ingenuity that defines Australians (and I will talk more about that tomorrow).
In closing, I would note that, at its most fundamental, our challenge is to ensure the partnership between Australian/New Zealand business and the Philippines is a successful one. We will continue to advocate for an environment in which business can flourish, economic activity is generated, and jobs are created for Filipinos.
If we do this then we will be doing our part in realising the Philippines’ great potential.