3 September 2014

Address to the AustCham Luncheon, Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai

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This is a transcript of Minister Billson's speech to the AustCham Luncheon in Shanghai. The topics discussed included small business, SME engagement, innovation and exports.

Thank you for inviting me along today. I would like to pay tribute to all of you; I don’t think your success and journey is celebrated enough.

There may be some just awakening to the opportunities that are part of this extraordinary economy, this remarkable nation of wonderful and big hearted people that are driven in so many ways by the same values that drive citizens in Australia.

There’s an appetite and desire to apply oneself, a hope and desire for a better future for children, their children, to see family as a bit like politics and small business - you know ruthlessly exploiting family to advance your interests. Isn’t that what family businesses are all about and we see that in Australia.

So there are some real points of connectedness there but there aren’t that many pathfinders. You know it is still a mystery to many about the mutual benefits available by a deeper and fuller engagement with China.

Now I pay tribute to you all because not only do you know that but you live it, you have succeeded, you provide inspiration and example. That path finding know how that so many others are looking for today.

So I think it’s appropriate to give yourselves a cheer.

We hear the stories of some of our biggest corporates building strong economic relations and that’s terrific and it deserves to be acknowledged and respected.

But there are also so many success stories about smaller and medium sized enterprises who have built the relationships, demonstrated an ongoing commitment to economic cooperation and mutual opportunities and are creating wealth for themselves and those that are part of their enterprises both here and in Australia, further nourishing the bilateral relationship between our countries.

The reason why I am here again, when I was just here in April, is that the SME part of that story isn’t as visible as it needs to be, but you are testament to success being within reach.

But also you are the case studies that show there are no easy wins.

We are one of 120 other nations that see economic opportunities in China and we are enchanted and tantalised by those delicious possibilities.

But just recognising them and hoping they will come our way isn’t enough. It takes persistence, relationship building, the understanding of culture and the way commerce is transacted to build confidence, knowing that not only are Australian businesses doing due diligence on prospective partners in China, Chinese prospective partners doing due diligence on Australian businesses.

It’s not like that. It is not a matter of simply turning up and seeing easy profits coming your way, it’s not like that at all.

It is about your success stories, application, patience and perseverance.

Our role in Government is to celebrate the opportunities and your success, and I suppose entice others to ask the question why not me?

You know, some small business people may think ‘I’m seeing business people with enterprises not dissimilar to mine, maybe exporting which hasn’t been on my radar, but should be part of my business strategy going forward.’

But what does that involve? Where do I get the learnings? Whose experience can I draw in to make sure each step I take, the best informed and wisest one?

Then the relationships that can be built through joint ventures, and the bilateral commercial traffic between two countries that have done a lot of business together for many many decades, have great people to people ties and a story of enterprise at their heart.

This is very exciting but the knowledge is something that we need to build and develop.

We’re trying to make sure that those market opportunities are there and you know of our work, of our priority seeking to conclude a Free Trade Agreement.

We are very keen to get a comprehensive, mutually beneficial agreement and that is a lot of work.

We haven’t peaked early on that, you might have picked up. Today we are at round 21 in the negotiation process but that shows you how important, thoughtful and considered this work needs to be.

To be done well and to be done right our attitude is to keep working and put as much energy into it as we can, with an ambition to have those negotiations concluded near the end of the year.  

We’ve done that with Korea as well as Japan - new markets, new opportunities.

There’s potential for big businesses and small businesses to bring that expertise, that niche capability, that world class talent or goods and services that markets are looking for but might seem so far away for a small business thinking about moving interstate because that is within their reach.

We have to support that work, not only within the market opportunities but aligning our programmes. For example the Export Market Development programme - we need to fine tune that so it is fit for purpose and suitable for smaller enterprises.

The focus that EFIC’s work brings, recognising that our diplomacy needs to include economic ambitions as well as more traditional diplomatic objectives.

Then making sure that it’s understood that we are fair dinkum about that. 

Christopher Pyne, Joe Hockey, Bruce Billson, Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce - there has been a strong and continuous stream of senior Australian officials coming through but that’s part of it.

What talks most directly to the Chinese business community are all of you, because they know you.

You‘ve built confidence and mutual understanding, you are our ambassadors of opportunity into the future but you are also a repository of great wisdom and insight that we hope to share.

Part of my reason for being here for the APEC SME discussions is not only to recognise the growth ambitions developed and developing countries have, can only be achieved by an energising of enterprise at an SME level.

But there are things we can do to make sure trade is part of that picture, that there is a supportive entrepreneurial ecosystem, both at home and in markets where we seek to engage, and that where we can get those settings right, there are great possibilities for better livelihoods, better incomes and more secure economic prospects into the future.

One of those areas is around technology.

We’ve seen that a small business fully embracing new technology is some 18 times more likely to identify overseas market opportunities than a business that isn’t.

This is also a real avenue to market and in a vast population such as China, trying to find those customers that are most interested in the goods and services that you have to offer is a skill.

I am spending some time with Alibaba as part of my visit and meeting with other companies and platforms that see if our offer is able to find its way to customers that are interested in what we are providing and in a position to conclude those transactions.

So I just want to say thankyou. I hope I’m invited back again although that’s always a near run cause when we are having discussions I am particularly low maintenance and I think some of the officials I speak with find that a little disarming and unusual, but it does enable us to have good, frank and meaningful conversations.

Discussions about our interest and appetite in the Free Trade zone and what that might mean to further enhance bilateral, economic and broader relationships.

I’m grateful for the role models and inspiration you provide to others. I’m really inspired by your preparedness to share that with other Australians.

I just want to emphasise the point – there’s so much more potential there but it will take a lot of work and a lot of wisdom.

You’ve displayed all of that and we admire and respect your achievements. We hope others will emulate that and we hope their efforts are nourished by the wisdom and insights you are prepared to provide and sound Government policy, that at least provides the environment in which more commerce, stronger business to business and people to people relationships can flourish.

Thanks for a few minutes of your time today.