Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Australia 'Open For Business': Abbott
JAKARTA (Nikkei)--In a landmark visit to Indonesia this week, Australia's newly elected Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised his country's deeper engagement with Asia on trade and investment.
In Jakarta on Monday, Abbott declared that Australia was "under new management and open for business," including in its agriculture sector, and urged Australian business to forge stronger ties with Indonesia, the biggest economy in the 10-member Association of South East Asian nations.
"The (ruling) coalition's view is that we are in favor of foreign investment, we want foreign investment in the national interest and 99 times out of 100 it is in the national interest because (it) creates jobs and boosts economic activity," Abbott said.
On his first overseas trip since being elected last month, Abbott brought a delegation of 20 business leaders to Jakarta, in a move he cast as a blueprint for future visits around the region. His office has already indicated that he and senior ministers intend next to visit Japan, South Korea and China in coming months to accelerate his government's drive to boost engagement in Asia.
"As befits a country that's under new management and once more open for business, it's my intention to take a trade delegation with me on all significant overseas trips to showcase Australia and to let our partners know more about how we can work together to mutual advantage," he told a business breakfast in Jakarta.
Mike Smith, a delegation member and chief executive of ANZ, Australia's third biggest and most regionally focused bank, said that Australian companies should understand that while there were risks in entering Asian markets, that was part of business.
"They have to try something else. I actually think that every market has its own problems," Smith said. "Of course you have to take risks, of course there is an element of difference, and you have to make the best of that."
Abbott's message was reinforced by Andrew Robb, his trade and investment minister who is heading a new, supercharged portfolio. In an exclusive interview, he told the Nikkei that free trade agreements with Japan, South Korea and China were among his first priorities.
"Wherever you develop a strong trading relationship, a strong investment relationship should follow. We (in Australia) have always had a senior cabinet minister promoting trade but never one person promoting investment," Robb said, referring to Abbott's decision to add "investment" to the traditional trade portfolio.
Robb is the closest thing in Australia's new conservative government to an "old Asia hand." Reflecting his reputation for regional knowledge and experience, Robb has been tasked with improving trade and investment links between Australia and its neighbors.
With his strong background in private enterprise and wide international business and political experience, Robb is seen as a natural fit for the job. Among previous jobs, he has spent some time working in Asia, much of it in China and Macau as a long-time adviser to Australian media and gambling tycoon James Packer.
Underlining his priorities, Robb said he would visit Japan and China "within the next month."
It is understood that the new foreign minister, Julie Bishop, is also planning a separate but similar trip.
Abbott could face some protectionist resistance at home in his embrace of foreign investment in Australia's agricultural sector, led by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, who has waged a public battle against foreign companies "buying up the farm," meaning local agribusiness.
In what appeared to be tacit acknowledgement of such sentiments, Abbott confirmed on Monday, for the first time since his election, that his government would slash the amount of investment -- in agricultural businesses and land -- that foreign companies can make without being subject to review by the Treasury Department's Foreign Investment Review Board. From now, he said, any investment over 15 million Australian dollars would be subject to FIRB review, a steep drop from the previous limit of 241 million dollars.
"This is designed to ensure that the Australian people understand that foreign investment that we have is welcome and it is really is in our own best interests," Abbot said.
"Trade and investment is for Australia. If we have more trade and investment, all countries get richer and that is good for everyone," he said. "Not only is Australia open for business but we are eager to do business with the wider world."
--By contributing writer Michael Sainsbury