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Will we become too fat to export?

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Reading Thomas Friedman's seminal book The World is Flat should be compulsory for all those aspire to lead our country. It is a book that explains the how, the why and, importantly, the effects of technological change to the world's economy. Why, with the ubiquitous spread of technology, it doesn't matter where your business operates. Where the culture of hard work and enterprise is more important than resources, location and opportunity. Why, he asked, is it cheaper and easier for Egyptians to import from China traditional lamps formerly manufactured by Egyptian peasants who earn an average of $50 per month? His explanation is the culture of hard work in China. I was reminded of Friedman's book last weekend when I read an article of his in the Sydney Morning Herald. He recounted a skit on Chinese TV that tells the story of a race between four children, one from the USA, one from China, one from India and one from Brazil. The American child raced ahead to an early lead and exclaimed, "I will win because I always win" but later doubled over in pain. The explanation was given by the Chinese child: "He's overweight and flabby. He ate too many hamburgers." I guess that's how they see us too. Australia and our cargo cult mentality of relying on the mining industry to give us our national wealth, reminds me of the Papua New Guinea Highlanders in the 1970s who started a new religion where all the goods of the west would simply arrive by helicopter as a reward to the lucky few who joined the new religion. In my last blog, I called on the government to assist Australian exporters with a lift in the Export Market Development Grants (EMDG) scheme for exporters rather than the niggardly attitude adopted by the current government. Our real long-term prosperity cannot rely on simply digging up easy-to-mine minerals. There is no guarantee any of these 'riches' will be in demand into the long-term future. We need to again emphasise our strengths in technology, our legal profession, education and manufacturing. We need to help these sectors of our economy to expand to new markets if we are also not to become "too fat and flabby". A proven and cost effective way is to provide exporters with grants that partially reimburses them for marketing activities in promoting exports.

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