Australia’s Minister for Trade in Paris

Ambassador Berne, Minister Ciobo and Bernard Tabary

The importance of advancing talks on the Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement was strongly underscored when Australia’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Mr Steven Ciobo, met with ABIE members and guests over breakfast on Monday 22nd January.

This prestigious first ABIE event of the year, hosted by the Australian Ambassador, H.E. Brendan Berne, ABIE’s Honorary President, at his private residence was attended by 50 French and Australian business figures.

“Australia welcomes foreign investment,” said the Minister.  “Without foreign capital we would not as an economy reach our potential.

“Europe is Australia’s biggest investor, with one trillion dollars of investment”.  However, the Minister indicated that Australia needs more access into Europe – “agriculture access is not the main game.  We want services, education, manufacturing and investment…  ABIE is a terrific partner for us and critical to the talks’ success.”

However, he suggested that there might be some challenges during the future negotiations – mainly over agriculture – and urged ABIE do all it could to support the negotiations.

He described Australia as being well-placed as a base for European companies to springboard into Asia.  Australia has “rule of law, an educated and mobile workforce, low government risk and broad and deep capital markets”.  There is huge untapped potential in Australia’s ASEAN neighbours, making Australia a good base for French operations into emerging markets such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.  “From our side, Australia views Paris as a launching pad for trading throughout Europe.”

In welcoming the Minister, ABIE President Mr Bernard Tabary thanked everyone for attending an early meeting on a cold and wet Monday.  “While we can barely see France’s beacon, the Eiffel Tower, because of bad weather”, he quipped, “we see Australia as a beacon of prosperity for France. “

In an imaginative reversal of protocol, instead of Minister Ciobo taking questions, a number of business guests in the audience were asked to speak of their own cross-cultural business experiences and highlight any issues which might be considered in the FTA.

Employment lawyer Frederic Calinaud spoke of the problems the non-portability of social security and pension schemes created, while Sophie Moran, of Nufarm, a large Australian agricultural and chemical company, pointed her finger at the myriad of value added tax regulations that slowed down business.

Commonwealth Bank’s Francois Heritier addressed the importance of language, saying that the French preferred to discuss in their own language, even if they could speak English.  Vincent Portal, of Macquarie Infrastructure, stressed the importance of “being on the ground” with a local presence, and on building trust.

Antony Parks, Director of the ICC, commented on how successful the ICC World Conference had been in Sydney last year and the importance of the relationship between the two countries and with Europe.

In his concluding remarks, Jason Collins, Chief Executive of the European Australian Business Council, praised the dynamic new leadership in France, saying that times couldn’t be better for achieving the free trade agreement.  He announced that a high-level business delegation from Australia would be visiting France in early July, led by the Governor General.

Further information on Minister Ciobo’s trip to France can be found HERE.