Tides of Change: Austrade restructures
Those of us who have been around the export arena for a while applaud the changes to Austrade recently announced by the Minister for Trade Craig Emerson. Peter Grey, the Chief Executive Officer of Austrade who undertook a comprehensive review of the agency has, I believe, got it absolutely right. In the first place, trade these days is too complex to think that one agency can be all things to all people and second there is no doubt that overseas representation is best focussed on the world’s frontier and emerging markets where there are significant future commercial opportunities for Australian business.
To make this really work there will need to be considerable cooperation between state government agencies as well as the many organisations that provide services to the Australian export community. The money that goes into trade promotion is far too limited to allow for massive levels of duplication and what essentially becomes waste. Austrade has set its direction. It’s clear and unambiguous so it is now up to state governments to reassess their programs so that they complement the federal agency and not compete. Austrade too must embrace the capabilities of the key associations and be prepared to outsource programs to those bodies that possess the capability to deliver them professionally and cost-efficiently.
What I’m saying here has been said many times before, but I really don’t think there has ever been a more important time than now for absolute cooperation and sharing resources to drive our export promotion. The remnants of the Global Financial Crisis and the astronomically high dollar are affecting many businesses, almost to the point where existence is on the line. Clearly working together as “Team Australia” and tackling the challenges collectively makes a whole lot of sense.
So where does it start? Clearly, it begins at the top of Government. Government needs to take the initiative, it needs to embrace industry and listen to the people who are out there at the coalface of export. The Federal Government needs to work with the State Governments to implement programs that will add value to Australia’s export performance and not create even greater waste.
While nothing in this world is perfect, in the United States the Obama Government’s approach may be a good model to look at. Why not form an effective council of business people to advise government of trade policy and promotion? Why not foster cooperation between state governments and federal government departments that have trade on their agenda? Why not encourage the development of powerful industry groups to work together to build their export business and why not take high powered trade missions led by the Minister for Trade to the markets identified by Austrade as having great potential? And finally why not put some real dollars behind “Australia Unlimited”, the umbrella branding that cost us so much to develop?
Today’s export environment is tougher than it’s been for a long time. The March quarter Gross Domestic Product picture was not entirely unexpected; exports of manufactured products, many of our services and a good number of agribusiness categories have been suffering for some time, not to mention inbound tourism and education. Is it not time to pull together, work more cohesively and drive Australia’s export activity? Austrade has taken the lead and taken some wise decisions. Now is the time to finish the job and create an atmosphere that encourages business and governments to go out there as a team and take on the world.
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