Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
May I recognize the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and return my respect to their elders past, present and future.
And may I thank you (the Honorable Dr. Craig Emerson) and the APEC Study Center, and especially acknowledge your contribution to public life in this country.
I was reading your biography a bit before I got on the scene and it’s a wonderful Australian story. From very humble beginnings and very difficult beginnings to becoming an economist and playing a major role in shaping public policies, especially in the international relations space in this country and it’s great to be here with you.
I look forward to continuing to engage with you and thank you again for your contribution to the public life of this country.
Australia is a trading nation.
We have long supported trade liberalization and a rules-based global trading system, and bodies like APEC and the World Trade Organization are essential in supporting this system.
APEC is the main forum for regional economic cooperation: it has fostered regional prosperity and is an important stepping stone towards global economic reform.
It is also proof of the role that countries like Australia can play on the international stage.
The creation of APEC represents one of Australia’s biggest diplomatic blows and Craig was in Bob Hawke’s office when this was all forming and when APEC was beginning. And having you in your role now, Craig, I think that’s an incredibly important bookend when this all started.
Linking the main economic engines – that is, the economies – of the 21st century, APEC is essential to the further liberalization and development of our region.
Australia’s creation and commitment to APEC is implicit in a broader vision of multilateral institutions that recognizes Australia’s national interest in a broader economic architecture that respects the rules and standards upon which our prosperity.
Such a view is neither political nor partisan – there is a general view, arguably shared by Craig – that it is Australia’s role.
Even still, it is hard to imagine Australia or other member economies having the impetus to establish an organization like APEC today.
And I think that’s a really important point, having something like APEC, now we have to cherish it.
It is perhaps not surprising. APEC has had a few difficult years, with meetings canceled or held online.
In this, it is not the only one among multilateral forums – the WTO, at the forefront of our world economic institutions, has become sclerotic, making further liberalization extremely difficult to achieve.
That these institutions did not function like their founding members when considered is not, however, a reason for neglecting or withdrawing from them.
On the contrary, periods of relative underperformance provide Australia with an opportunity to reassess its role in multilateral institutions and to remember why we are committed to them in the first place.
When we do this, we see the strengths of APEC and the WTO.
Take the WTO, in concrete terms we see the WTO at its best with the recent success of Australia’s action against Canada and its treatment of Australian wine.
Likewise, the WTO has established a dispute settlement panel, at Australia’s request, to resolve concerns about China’s anti-dumping and countervailing duties on Australian barley.
But perhaps more importantly, the WTO remains the only institution that formulates, monitors and enforces the rules of world trade.
APEC, another of our most important institutions, performs a very different function, but no less important.
Its informality and emphasis on voluntary action, including by subsets of its members, is a strength.
Its non-binding agreements gave members the assurance that, when they lower their trade barriers, regional neighbors will do the same.
We all know that peer pressure plays a role in motivating liberalization reforms.
Since APEC’s inception, the region has undergone massive change, growing at an average of 3.7 percent per year, resulting in rising average incomes and vast reductions in poverty and a growing middle class.
APEC also provides a forum for examining a wide range of economic issues: from lowering tariffs to the recognition of professional qualifications.
From the start, one of APEC’s strengths has also been the active participation of the business community in shaping its agenda.
Members of APEC’s Business Advisory Council, ABAC, engage directly with leaders and help shape the APEC agenda.
No other regional forum offers this type of regular institutional engagement for businesses.
APEC is also an incubator of regional ideas such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Because of these unique attributes, APEC is an institution for troubled times: From the early stages of the pandemic, APEC has been a strong voice for economic openness and the free flow of essential medical supplies, which supports work in broader multilateral forums.
Over the past year, APEC trade ministers worked together to reduce barriers to essential goods, helping to ensure that PPE could be channeled to countries in the region that needed it.
It aims to resist vaccine protectionism and, with Australia’s leadership, facilitate the unhindered flow of services that support trade in goods, ensuring essential supplies are expedited across borders.
It has worked for us in times of crisis, just as it has worked for thirty years.
A brief list of APEC highlights includes:
- global achievements, such as the information technology agreement that boosted global trade in computers and the 2012 agreement to reduce tariffs on environmental goods.
- reduce average tariff barriers since 1994 from 17 percent to just over 5 percent;
- the creation of an APEC business travel card that enables immigration processing by express route for more than 350,000 business travelers; and
- reduce the average time to start a small business, obtain credit and apply for a permit by 11% in the APEC region.
And I’ll add one more thing that Craig and I were talking about before we went on the air:
- also, as a place for leaders, trade ministers, foreign ministers and others could chat quietly. Whether over a cup of tea or a glass of wine, the informal gatherings have enabled important relationships to be formed, which have greatly contributed to the prosperity of the region in which we live.
In general terms, APEC’s focus on trade facilitation has reduced the cost and time of doing business by more than 20 percent since 2005.
With that in mind, allow me to address the key priorities that I will pursue with my counterparts.
The Biden administration has made positive remarks about the United States’ return to an increased emphasis on multilateralism.
This gives us the opportunity to engage with the United States at APEC, the World Trade Organization, and most importantly the CPTPP.
It is in Australia’s best interest if we can get the United States, once again, to engage in the CPTPP.
Increased engagement with the United States through APEC will hopefully allow us to work constructively, and on our principles, with China as well.
There are three areas where APEC can work together for the benefit of all its members:
- First, to support the rapid and equitable delivery of vaccines.
- Second, by ensuring continued support to services, contributing to recovery from COVID-19.
- And third, by supporting the resilience of the supply chain.
Australia will also work to put APEC at the forefront of using trade and economic policies to support environmental sustainability.
APEC’s list of environmental goods has been a historic achievement, reducing tariffs across APEC on environmental goods.
But now is the time to update and expand the list to reflect new technology.
We also want to explore what we can do on environmental services – Australia would like to see liberalization, and we welcome ABAC’s support here.
Australia supports a practical transition to renewable energy options – like other APEC economies, we are firmly committed to the Paris Agreement.
We encourage APEC economies to consider initiatives that will create an enabling environment for renewable energy investment and trade.
Another priority is to get APEC to tackle the longer-term implications of COVID through its structural reform agenda.
We are keenly aware that, without concerted action, COVID-19 can reverse hard-won gains in economic empowerment, resilience, and women’s health and safety.
APEC’s La Serena Roadmap for Women and Inclusive Growth outlines some of the key actions needed to remove barriers that prevent women’s full economic participation.
Finally, the upcoming APEC meetings provide an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a successful WTO ministerial conference later this year.
A strong and ambitious statement by APEC trade ministers will send a positive signal about the WTO – and help deliver meaningful results at the conference.
APEC can support the conclusion of WTO negotiations on fisheries subsidies, services and e-commerce initiatives, and agricultural trade reform.
Regarding the latter, Australia is particularly concerned that trade-distorting domestic support tariffs for agriculture could reach US $ 2 trillion by 2030 s ‘they are not controlled.
And it bears repeating, could reach $ 2 trillion by 2030 if left unchecked. This is a distortion of trade with national support services. We have so much to do at the WTO.
It hurts our farmers and rural communities around the world at a time of increasing poverty.
We have been energized by our close collaboration with our Kiwi counterparts this year as New Zealand hosts APEC in 2021.
In particular, we commended New Zealand’s priority in APEC’s agenda to reduce the cost of vaccines for developing countries.
This is APEC at its best – responsive in the moment and practical in its essence. I cannot stress enough the importance of this.
At times like these, we need more engagement with multilateral organizations, not less.
We need to better understand those who see differently from us.
We need places to agree and places to agree to disagree.
Above all, as a country that relies on multilateralism, we need institutions that work.
APEC is all of these, and we should be proud of the role we played in creating it.
Thank you so much.