House debates

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


United Arab Emirates: Trade

9:24 pm

Photo of Kelly O'DwyerKelly O'Dwyer (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Trade agreements allow Australians to win through both exports and imports. We can export more and reduce costs for imported goods. The free trade agreements that the government recently signed with Japan and South Korea are historic examples of how an energetic government can use trade agreements to support our economy. They mark an era of increased cooperation between Australia and its second- and third-largest export partners. However, there are other trade opportunities beyond our immediate region that go somewhat unrecognised.

In April, I had the opportunity to visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai as part of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the United Arab Emirates, invited by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. In the past, UK parliamentarians and US senators have been invited, but this marked a significant occasion for Australia as it was the first time that members of both the government and the opposition have been invited to the country to take part in this dialogue.

Given its central geographic position, the United Arab Emirates has become one of the world's important exchanges for both passengers and freight. This status as a hub has provided it with unprecedented development opportunities, and Australia is well positioned to offer products and services which assist with this development. There are four particular areas of trade focus where the UAE relationship is concerned: education; construction and engineering; sustainable energy services; and agribusiness.

Taking education as an example opportunity: in July 2013 the UAE began seeking an Australian partnership to develop new training courses and degree programs. Education is already a key export for us—$14.5 billion in the 2012-2013 financial year—so we have the products and experiences to add enormous value. Furthermore, our construction companies can also assist in the large-scale infrastructure projects sponsored by the UAE government. For example, a 2,117 kilometre-long rail network is planned to connect a number of countries in the UAE's neighbourhood. Our building experts can also assist with the construction which has been encouraged by the UAE's increased focus on tourism. The UAE is also interested in sustainable economic development, opening up another doorway for us to expand our renewable energy and water management sectors.

Finally, the UAE imports up to 90 per cent of its food due to harsh geographical conditions that impact on agricultural production. As a result, food security is a major concern of the UAE, and with increased cooperation Australia could see significant increases to its agricultural exports.

Fortunately, Australia is already pursuing a free trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. However, these negotiations have stalled. It is clearly in our interests that this process be concluded successfully, yet in the absence of an FTA with this collective body, it may be beneficial to consider pursuing a separate trade dialogue with the UAE. This is a path already taken by the US, who began an economic policy dialogue with the UAE in 2012.

So what can we, as a government, do to support Australia's trade interests? Firstly, it is important to continue work towards to the FTA with the Gulf Cooperation Council. Secondly, it would be helpful if this were supported by a tax treaty to avoid double taxation on dividends for companies. Finally, it may also be useful to consider a separate policy dialogue with the UAE, as the US is doing.

Following on from the successful South Korean and Japanese trade agreement negotiations, it is essential that we do not rest on our laurels. If we wish to sustain and even improve the quality of life for future Australians we must be working hard now to ensure that the trade infrastructure is in place to support our economic growth and job creation. The trade roads of the future are not just waterways and highways, but are the agreements between nations that energetic governments have put in place. Let's ensure that future generations perceive us as having been energetic enough.

House adjourned at 21:28


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