On 15 February 2018, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT) resolved pursuant to paragraph two of the Committee’s resolution of appointment to undertake an inquiry into support provided to access free trade agreements by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as referred to on page 49 of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Annual Report for 2016-17. On 15 February 2018, the JSCFADT referred the inquiry to its Trade Sub-Committee to undertake. The terms of reference of the inquiry were to report on:
…opportunities and challenges facing small and medium Australian export-oriented businesses that seek to leverage free trade agreements for the export of goods and services [with] particular regard to:
consideration of what products and services (e.g. inclusion and prioritisation) are negotiated in free trade agreements;
awareness of, and accessibility to, free trade agreements;
lessons learnt from attempts at leveraging free trade agreements, including barriers to implementation and success in fast-tracking export opportunities;
role and effectiveness of support structures and networks in helping leverage free trade agreements;
ongoing capacity building that will assist in creating opportunities and capturing more value from free trade agreements in the future; and
any other related matters.
Conduct of the inquiry
The Committee invited relevant governments, companies, small businesses, family enterprises and organisations to make a submission. The Committee had received 111 oral submissions from roundtable public hearings across much of Australia as listed in Appendix A. The Committee had received 42 submissions and published 41 submissions as listed in Appendix B. These written submissions are available from the Committee’s website.
Sixteen public hearings were conducted in capital cities and regional centres by the Committee, mostly in a roundtable format, in Canberra, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Townsville, Melbourne, Griffith, Newcastle, Sydney and Adelaide. The dates and locations of the hearings, together with the names of witnesses who appeared before the Committee are at Appendix D. The transcripts of the oral submissions at these hearings are available from the Committee’s website.
Figure 1.1: Participants at a roundtable in Sunnybank, Brisbane, Queensland
Committee members discuss FTA issues with SMEs at a roundtable in Sunnybank, Queensland
Geographical scope of the inquiry
The primary geographical focus of the inquiry has been on the relationship of Australian small and medium sized enterprises with the trading opportunities offered by the 16 countries or groups of countries Australia has free trade agreements with at the time of publication, also the four FTAs concluded but not yet in force, the eight FTAs under negotiation and a prospective FTA negotiation with the United Kingdom. These partner countries include close neighbours such as New Zealand and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), those across the Pacific such as the United States of America and Chile and more recently FTAs with north Asian countries of China, Japan and Korea.
Definition of SMEs
Definitions of SMEs can vary between government agencies with the Australian Bureau of Statistics defining SMEs as businesses with fewer than 200 employees and annual turnover and exports of both less than A$20 million for the purposes of its recent export data collection.
The Export Finance and Insurance Corporation define an SME as an entity with annual turnover less than A$150m. This definition was modelled on the breakdown employed by trade finance teams in commercial banks.
The distribution of Efic’s SME signings is heavily weighted towards the lower end of the turnover scale, with the bulk of SME’s supported falling within the A$10-A$60m annual turnover band and with less than 100 employees.
The Australian Industry Group submitted its definition of small and medium sized exporters as SMEx with export revenues of between $250,000 and $50 million, and micro-exporters having export revenues of less than $250,000, and large exporters with export revenues of more than $50 million.
According to the German Australian Business Council, the European Union defines an SME to be a company with less than 250 employees and either turnover of less than EUR 50 million per annum or a balance sheet of less than EUR 43 million.
For many practical purposes, the exact definition is unimportant, since the issues faced are similar for business of this size and turnover. Many businesses of this size, at least in Germany, may have some experience in exporting but do not have the facilities or staff to monitor extensively changes in domestic regulations in their export markets.
The Global Trade Professionals Alliance (GTPA) acknowledged the definition of an micro, small and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs) varies significantly across jurisdictions, to the extent that a “medium sized enterprise in one market could include companies generating multiple hundreds of millions in annual turnover, whilst in another market, is likely to be a fraction of that in size and economic value”.
GPTA sees merit in the Government finding a common reference point for definition of SMEs being achieved.
…even an agreed range for each category, based on annual revenue or number of employees, could assist in focusing efforts and solution-development in local, national and regional economies, where the greatest positive (and most needed) impact can be generated.
The Department of Industry, Innovation & Science (DIIS) stated there are “no internationally comparable statistics available to benchmark this Australian SME goods exporting share against, given differences in the definition of exporters, the industries in scope as well as the definition of SMEs”.
For example, the OECD defines SMEs as businesses with less than 250 persons employed. OECD publications do not include data for Australia on SMEs and international trade.
The latest available OECD data for 2014 indicate that there was a large variability in the SME exporting share (defined as customs-based trade in goods for businesses with less than 250 employees as a ratio of the total number of enterprises) between countries, ranging from 10 per cent to 40 per cent…Differences between countries can be ascribed to a number of factors, including the size of the country (internal market), comparative advantages and trade barriers.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data on SME exporters
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry used the Australian Bureau of Statistics report 5368.0.55.0061 that details the Characteristics of Australian Exporters to outline how many businesses export. The ACCI detailed the numbers using 2015-16 data as the latest year available:
The total number of exporters of goods and/or services in 2015-16 was 53,350, an increase of 2,454 (5 per cent) from 2014-15.
The number of goods exporters increased by 2,611 (5 per cent) and the number of services exporters decreased by 136 (-4 per cent).
The total value of goods and services exports decreased by $6b to $312b (-2 per cent) from 2014-15.
The decrease in the value of goods exports was $11b (-4 per cent) to $243b. This was partially offset by an increase in the value of services exports, up $5b (9 per cent) to $68b.
The increase in the number of exporters was across the board, except for large goods exporters (between $50m and $100m) and services exporters.
The departments of Industry, Innovation & Science (DIIS) and of Jobs & Small Business (DJSB) submitted the contribution of Australian SMEs, as businesses with less than 200 employees, to exports is disproportionately low.
In 2015-16, SMEs represented 99 per cent of Australian employing businesses, yet their contribution to the value of exports was only about 6 per cent.
According to the latest available ABS statistics in 2016-17, SMEs still accounted for “99.5 per cent of employing businesses in Australia”.
There were 45,528 goods exporting SMEs in 2016-17, which accounted for 5.3 per cent of all employing SMEs in Australia.
Using the ABS Characteristics of Australian Exporters data, the DIIS and DJSB described the domination of large exporters compared to SMEs.
Over the last decade, the value of SMEs’ exports have remained stagnant at around $12 billion per year, while the value of exports of large businesses have increased by 48 per cent between 2006-07 and 2015-16 from $155 billion to $231 billion. In most industry sectors (e.g. agriculture, mining and manufacturing) large businesses have driven export growth.
Figure 1.2: Value of Australian exports by business size
Source: Submission 31 Dept. of Industry, Innovation & Science and Dept. of Jobs & Small Business, and ABS (various years) Characteristics of Australian Exporters, Cat. No 5368.0.55.006.
More broadly, the DIIS and DJSB explained using ABS data that the number of Australian businesses exporting has only marginally grown over the past decade.
Again, despite representing 99 per cent of Australian employing businesses, SMEs only accounted for around 88 per cent of goods exporters in 2015-16.
DIIS and DJSB believe this may be attributable to several factors including, but not limited to, the broader challenges faced by business in the wake of the global financial crisis and SMEs “not having an interest in or the capacity to export”.
Figure 1.3: Number of goods exporters by business size
Source: Submission 31 Dept. of Industry, Innovation & Science and Dept. of Jobs & Small Business, and ABS (various years) Characteristics of Australian Exporters, Cat. No 5368.0.55.006.
DFAT outlined that many SMEs may participate in exporting without being directly involved or appearing in ABS data. Instead, these SMEs can be involved in the production of a good or service that is exported by others.
A honey producer who sells to a local co-operative, which then exports to an Indonesian food manufacturer, is participating in a global value chain. A café where Chinese and American tourists eat breakfast is exporting hospitality services.
The Department of Industry, Innovation & Science (DIIS) submitted that there is “currently no data sources available to definitively benchmark the number of Australian SMEs that export by export market”.
The Australian Government statistics that are available on the characteristics of Australian exporters do not provide information on exports from SMEs by country of destination. Further, the available statistics do not reflect SME export information with high levels of accuracy, given the complexity of export business structures and export reporting, as well as the difficulty in reflecting the value of SMEs that sell goods to large Australian businesses who then undertake the exporting function.
SMEs exporting goods and utilising FTAs
According to the latest available ABS statistics, DIIS submitted there were 45,528 goods exporting SMEs in 2016-17, which accounted for 87.6 per cent of all firms that exported goods from Australia. SMEs accounted for AU $12.9 billion or 4.4 per cent of Australia’s global trade in goods, while large businesses accounted for AUD $278 billion.
Using ABS data, DIIS submitted that SMEs account for 99 per cent of Australian employing businesses, yet their contribution to Australia’s exports is disproportionately low.
While many of these businesses may not have an immediate interest in entering foreign markets, Australia’s FTAs provide considerable opportunity for SMEs to grow their business and, in the process, provide an even greater contribution to job creation and economic growth.
FTAs can assist firms to increase their exports; import technology and equipment required for domestic production at a lower cost; tap into new investment opportunities; and expand their client bases.
However, SMEs tend to face greater challenges than larger businesses in entering foreign markets and taking advantage of FTAs.
ABS data, according to DFAT, showed that around 51,000 or 2.4 per cent of all Australian businesses directly engaged in exporting goods in 2015-16.
While SMEs made up 87.8 per cent of Australia’s total number of goods exporters, they represented just 5.3 per cent to Australia’s total value of goods exports in 2015-16 (up from 3.9 per cent in 2013-14).
The SME share of 2015-16 exports is 10.4 per cent if the mining industry is excluded from the analysis.
DFAT explained there was an upwards trend in SME engagement in exporting, and it expects the Government’s initiatives on e-commerce and active trade negotiation and promotion to generate further SME export growth.
Although SME exporters can transition over time to become large enterprises, it is clear from ABS data that the overall value of SME goods exports is low in comparison to other enterprises. There is also significant turnover among SME exporters – they are more likely to export less frequently (or just once or twice), in smaller volumes of lower value.
The Department of Industry, Innovation & Science (DIIS) highlighted the latest OECD data from the Future of Business Survey, a joint Facebook-OECD-World Bank survey of SMEs (defined as businesses with less than 250 employees with a digital presence). DIIS noted these survey results could also be impacted by the representativeness of surveyed SMEs given that it only covers those firms with a Facebook presence.
…that was conducted over the period March to May 2017, indicate that 9.9 per cent of Australian SMEs were exporting. This was slightly below the 34-country average of 10.4 per cent, but higher than countries such as Canada, the United States and Japan. As indicated above, there is a wide variation in the share of SMEs that are exporting and this is also reflected in this survey’s findings, with the exporting share ranging from 3.7 per cent for Brazil to 20.7 per cent for Korea. Note that in addition to the factors highlighted above that can explain differences in the share of exporting businesses between countries...
SMEs exporting services
Around 73 per cent of Australia’s GDP in 2017 came from the services sector, according to DFAT’s analysis based on ABS Catalogue 5206.0 Australian National Accounts (December quarter 2017).
DFAT believed Australia’s relative geographic isolation can make it more difficult for Australia’s SMEs to export their services.
This makes international comparisons of Australia’s SME export intensity difficult – EU SMEs, for example, can easily move across borders to supply services.
Australia’s free trade agreement agenda and SMEs
DFAT jointly submitted with portfolio agencies the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) and the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (Efic) that the Australian Government has an ambitious trade and investment agenda that is providing substantial new opportunities for Australian SMEs and other businesses. This agenda includes the active negotiation, implementation and review of free trade agreements.
FTAs and Government programs can help businesses reach various milestones, but are just one element of an SME’s journey to becoming a successful exporter.
Australia, as of November 2018, has 10 FTAs in force with 16 countries.
Around two-thirds of Australia’s current trade is with FTA partner countries.
FTAs also benefit Australian SMEs generally, according to DFAT, by:
creating a competitive edge for their goods and services exports, including in ecommerce;
providing access to a wider range of more competitively priced imports;
deepening their engagement in global value chains;
safeguarding against protectionist tendencies in other countries;
improving access to overseas investment capital and new technologies; and
providing new growth and employment opportunities.
Free trade agreements in force
The 16 countries or groups of countries Australia has FTAs with, listed with the date they entered into force
Australia-New Zealand (ANZCERTA or CER) — 1 January 1983
Singapore-Australia (SAFTA) — 28 July 2003
Australia-United States (AUSFTA) — 1 January 2005
Thailand-Australia (TAFTA) — 1 January 2005
Australia-Chile (ACl-FTA) — 6 March 2009
ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand (AANZFTA) — 1 January 2010 for eight countries: Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Burma, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. For Thailand: 12 March 2010. For Laos: 1 January 2011. For Cambodia: 4 January 2011. For Indonesia: 10 January 2012
Malaysia-Australia (MAFTA) — 1 January 2013
Korea-Australia (KAFTA) — 12 December 2014
Japan-Australia (JAEPA) — 15 January 2015
China-Australia (ChAFTA) — 20 December 2015
Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) — 30 December 2018
FTAs concluded but not yet in force
Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement
Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement
Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement
Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus
FTAs under negotiation
Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement
Australia-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Free Trade Agreement
Australia-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement
Environmental Goods Agreement
Pacific Alliance Free Trade Agreement
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership
Trade in Services Agreement
Prospective FTA negotiations
Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement
Government aim to support SMEs benefit from FTAs
The departments of Industry, Innovation & Science (DIIS) and of Jobs & Small Business (DJSB) submitted that smaller firms generally face more challenges in incurring the initial costs for entering foreign markets (such as for marketing, dealing with regulatory compliance, establishing commercial relationships with buyers, product customisation, etc.), reflecting that scale and age are important considerations for firms engaging in exporting activities.
However, some small firms increasingly overcome these challenges by capitalising on online tools and digital platforms.
Research by DIIS’ Office of the Chief Economist points to some examples including Australia’s around 3,000 ‘born-global’ firms in 2013-14 (around 5 per cent of all exporters) that started exporting since birth.
Employment in these businesses varied between 1 and 3 workers, illustrating that many born-global firms were not big employers.
DFAT, Austrade and Efic all claimed their portfolio provide significant support to SMEs to access benefits under the FTAs.
While Austrade provides advice and services to all eligible Australian businesses, its support is mainly targeted at around 10,000 SMEs.
Austrade highlighted four of its five purposes from its 2017-18 Corporate Plan (developing international markets, promoting international education, winning productive foreign investment and strengthening Australia’s tourism industry) relate to SMEs.
FTA accessibility is a prominent element of Austrade’s service delivery. In particular, the TradeStart network provides local export assistance and other Austrade services across regional Australia, including advice on unlocking the benefits of Australia’s FTAs. SMEs who are or aspire to become exporters are also the primary focus of Efic’s operations.
After the entry into force of FTAs, DFAT and Austrade submitted they both engage in a range of advocacy and outreach efforts to ensure SMEs and other businesses understand the benefits and requirements of FTAs. This includes information seminars, in-market activities, hotlines, mailboxes, publications and online resources, including the Department’s FTA Portal.
DFAT and Austrade actively leverage the TradeStart network domestically as well as our international network to support SMEs and other businesses in overseas markets, particularly on resolving market access issues and addressing non-tariff measures.
DFAT’s outlined its economic diplomacy agenda further aims to support Australia’s economic and commercial interests, including with respect to SMEs. Launched in 2014, the framework of DFAT’s economic diplomacy agenda looks to provide insights with businesses on foreign markets and global economic conditions.
It helps Australian businesses to navigate political and other risks and, in consultation with Austrade, assists in the identification of commercial opportunities in unfamiliar business and regulatory environments. In partnership with businesses, economic diplomacy seeks to open up commercial opportunities and demystify the international economic landscape.
DFAT claimed it also supports SMEs through its engagement in multilateral fora, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), the G20, APEC and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Recent successes include the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), which aims to reduce administrative costs associated with exporting and importing.
Increasing SMEs’ engagement in trade is part of a whole-of-Government approach, according to DFAT. The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the Department of Jobs and Small Business, the Department of Home Affairs and other agencies share responsibility for supporting SMEs through their policies and programs.
Overview of the inquiry
The Committee wanted to understand the opportunities and challenges faced by SMEs when seeking to capitalise on free trade agreements to drive exports of their goods and services into Australia’s partner countries. With Australia signing trade agreements with Peru, the final Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 Pacific-rim countries including new trading partners such as Canada and Mexico, and also a comprehensive economic partnership with Indonesia.
Dr Greg Whiteley, the Executive Chairman of the Whiteley Corporation in NSW welcomed the opportunity to raise trade issues with the members of the Trade Sub-Committee at a roundtable at the University of Newcastle.
I actually want to change tack a little bit and just compliment members for coming here and actually inquiring. It's a breath of fresh air. One of the problems we have is getting access to members of parliament for this sort of process. Normally, we have to go through a bureaucracy. And so much filtration goes on that by the time members get briefing sheets the actual flavour of things has been lost. So I would thoroughly endorse this as a regular event. If you're going to bring these things in that affect industry so grossly, having direct consultation can't be overstated for its value and importance. I thank you all for doing it and for allowing us to attend and make submissions.
The Committee is focused on the utilisation of free trade agreements by Australian businesses seeking new markets for their goods and services overseas. According to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, it is important to recognise that the benefits of free trade to Australian businesses are about more than just increased exports.
While boosting exports increases income and importing goods, services and IP benefits Australian businesses by lowering costs, which can boost profitability or increase production by improving competiveness, and providing opportunities to participate in the production of different goods and services through ‘global supply chains’. Free flow of investment both in and out of Australia also provides access to new capital for domestic businesses, income generating opportunities overseas, and cutting edge business practices.