This chapter covers Australia's economic relationship with France. It includes current trade and investment statistics, and areas of opportunity for increasing trade and investment, including: defence, space, critical minerals, mining, energy, renewable technologies, fintech, digital economy and infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific. It also touches briefly on the Industry Growth Centres Initiative, which is a mechanism to drive innovation, productivity and competitiveness in sectors of competitive strength and strategic priority. The chapter will also detail trade and investment opportunities in the region, as well as those resulting from the European Union Free Trade Agreement currently being negotiated.
There are substantial trade and investment links between Australia and France which have grown in recent years. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) reported that 'France’s total investment stock in Australia almost doubled between 2017 and 2018, and total trade increased by over 10 per cent in the same period'.
In 2018-19, merchandise trade imports from France were valued at A$5.7 billion, and Australian merchandise trade exports to France were A$1.5 billion. Australia's services imports from France were A$2.4 billion and Australia's services exports to France were A$1 billion.
In 2018-19, France's total investment in Australia was valued at A$50 billion. In 2018-19 Australian investment in France totalled A$58 billion.
His Excellency Mr Christophe Penot, Ambassador of France to Australia, informed the Committee that France's 'trade in goods and services represents A$11.5 billion and that 70,000 jobs have been generated by French economic activity in Australia'. The Embassy of France commented that:
Whilst Australia and France have been continuously engaged in trading for more than 150 years, the development of the bilateral economic relationship in the last twenty years is unprecedented.
The Department of Industry, Science and Resources (DISER) told the Committee that exports are dominated by resources, particularly coal but also 'aircraft and parts, oilseeds, olives … as well as some measuring and analytical instruments'. The majority of imports from France are 'veterinary medicine, perfumes and cosmetics, alcoholic beverages and pharmaceutical products'.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) informed the Committee that France and Australia have a thriving bilateral trade and investment relationship which DAWE, in close collaboration with DFAT, is working to expand:
Agricultural, fisheries and forestry trade between Australia and France was valued at around $1.11 billion in 2018-19, with the balance of two-way trade heavily in France’s favour. In 2018-19 Australian exports were valued at $224m, including $111m worth of canola, $29m of skins and hides, and $15m worth of lamb and mutton. Australia, in turn, imported $906m worth of agricultural, fisheries and forestry goods from France during this period, including $318m worth of wine, $93m worth of spirits and liqueurs, and $59m worth of bread products ... Demand for canola from Australia and a steadily increasing demand for French wine and spirits in Australia drives much of the agricultural trade.
DFAT also informed the Committee on progress with holding regular economic leadership forums as set out under the Joint Statement of Enhanced Strategic Partnership between Australia and France (the Joint Statement):
Regular business missions have been held from Australia to France, organised by the European Australian Business Council (EABC), and from France to Australia, organised by Mouvement des Enterprises de France (MEDEF). Most recently, EABC led a business mission to France in June 2018 and MEDEF led a business delegation to Australia in October 2019. Both EABC and MEDEF missions regularly include engagement with political figures and senior officials.
The South Australian Government noted that it has taken a strategic approach to maximise economic development with France since the announcement in 2016 of Naval Group designing the next generation of submarines in South Australia:
The 2016 announcements catalysed a significant increase in trade and investment dialogue between South Australian and French organisations, starting with the Defence sector and supply chain opportunities for the FSP [Future Submarine Program], and expanding into other sectors. To capitalise on these opportunities, the South Australian Government has developed close and productive collaboration with Business France, and other French trade and industry bodies.
The Northern Territory Government also advised the Committee that it has an established trade and investment relationship with France:
In the 2018-2019 financial year, the Northern Territory exported $71 million of goods to France; these exports were primarily driven by ‘confidential items’ and ‘hides, skins and furskins’. The Northern Territory’s imports for the 2018-2019 financial year were $44 million and comprised of ‘transport equipment (excluding road vehicles)’, ‘general industrial machinery’ and ‘power generating machinery’.
As the world leader in the production of premium quality saltwater crocodile skins, the Northern Territory Government reported that 'French fashion labels like Hermès and Louis Vuitton have a strong growing relationship with the Northern Territory industry':
The value of production of the Northern Territory crocodile farming industry in 2018-19 was $25 million, including $19 million for crocodile skins alone. The industry creates employment at all stages from “Marsh to Market”, including in remote Aboriginal communities, and has attracted considerable new local and international investment.
French companies and investment
French companies have become significant actors in Australia. DFAT advised that:
According to French estimates, there are more than 600 subsidiaries of French companies, employing more than 70,000 people, operating in Australia. Australia’s energy, infrastructure and defence sectors have experienced strong interest from French investors. French company Neoen, for example, has emerged as a major player in the Australian renewable energy industry with significant investments in large-scale solar, wind and battery storage. Neoen, with Tesla, developed the world’s biggest battery, the Hornsdale Power Reserve, in South Australia. Other major French companies with interests in Australia include Total (oil and gas), Suez and Veolia (water and waste management), Accor (hotels), Keolis and Transdev (transport), Pernod Ricard (beverages), and Navya (autonomous vehicles).
The growth in French companies in Australia was also noted by the Embassy of France, particularly the services sector, for example: Keolis, Veolia, Suez, Transdev and Accor; in banking: BNP, SG; in energy: Total, Engie, Neoen, Akuo, Schneider, Vinci; and more broadly the infrastructure sector: Alstom and Bouygues.
The Embassy also highlighted that French companies have become significant exporters of Australian products and services, for example Pernod Ricard, Thales, and Airbus. In addition '[m]any, such as Naval Group or Sanofi, have also invested or partnered with Australian research institutions'.
DISER provided more detail on French investment in Australia, reporting that it is Australia's 10th largest investor and detailed examples in the area of resources:
The committee would be familiar, particularly in the resources space, with some of the significant investments by French companies such as Total in terms of their partnership in the INPEX LNG project, representing France's largest investment in an Australian project. The composition of trade is there. But we think there's the opportunity to grow and expand that trade in the areas that we already cooperate in, both on a goods and on a services side.
The Embassy of France argued that the Australia-France economic relationship is not limited to fostering trade and investment flows, pointing out that Australia and France are also committed to defending and expanding the economic multilateral system with cooperation on topics such as:
Trade: France and Australia are supporters of an efficient World Trade Organization (WTO), as the best instance to set up fair and effective rules and resolve trade disputes;
International Taxation: Australia and France are active supporters of the work undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to create a level playing field between the different jurisdictions and to eliminate behaviours which promote tax evasion;
Digital Economy: France and Australia have both taken a leading role in this field, with a view to ensure a better and fairer repartition of the benefits created by the digital economy phenomenon. Australia’s participation in the G7 meeting in Biarritz in 2019 has been decisive in this regard;
Economic cooperation, Aid and Debt alleviation: Australia and France are among the most active supporters of the G2O process (for instance on the subject of infrastructure financing) and the Paris Club as regards poorer countries’ debt alleviation. Australia and France share common views on the need to assist least developed countries, notably in the Pacific and in Africa, and are looking to better coordinate their efforts.
Areas of opportunity
DFAT highlighted that Australia's economic 'relationship with France is strong and has seen growth in recent years'. The Joint Statement promotes cooperation in a range of areas, including economic. DFAT advised that at the inaugural Australia-France Trade and Investment Dialogue held in November 2019, ministers discussed opportunities to strengthen links in a number of areas including: infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific, renewable energy (hydrogen, wind and solar), critical minerals and FinTech.
The Embassy of France also highlighted these areas of opportunity as well as others, including Agritech, space industry and waste management. It also added that in relation to increasing trade and investment 'France and Australia can play on their respective comparative advantages':
Australia is for instance a world leader in commodities and financial services and a natural springboard to Asia. France is a prime location to operate from Europe and with Africa and is a world leader in industry and research.
Mr Peter Jennings PSM, Executive Director, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, appearing in a private capacity, was of the view that more could be done to build trusted supply chains between Australia and France, citing rare earths as an example. He noted the potential for Australia to position itself as a prime supplier of not only rare earths but also defence technology, space and cyber technology. As noted in Chapter 3, Mr Jennings suggested this could be progressed by way of a business delegation to identify export and joint venture opportunities in conjunction with a Prime Ministerial visit.
More detail on a number of areas of opportunity including, defence, space, critical minerals, mining, energy, renewable technologies, FinTech and infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific, is provided below.
The Future Submarine Program (FSP) is described as a 'central pillar of the strategic relationship between Australia and France'. The Joint Statement includes a 'joint commitment to maximise Australian industry involvement'.
There are opportunities to build on the success of Naval Group, the prime contractor for the FSP. DFAT noted that 'French companies have shown strong interest in investing in Australia, or forming joint ventures with Australian companies, to deliver contracts under the Future Submarine Program'.
Naval Group expressed support to further the Australia-France economic partnership, stating:
As an expression of faith in the Australian market and to further support the Australia-France economic partnership, Naval Group has established a separate subsidiary, Naval Group Pacific. Naval Group Pacific focusses on opportunities beyond the Future Submarine Program in the areas of research and development and is looking to pursue further defence opportunities in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.
To strengthen collaboration between French and South Australian business, the South Australian Government noted to the Committee that it:
… works closely with the Groupement des Industries de Construction et Activités Navales (GICAN) in Australia to support the further expansion of commercially prospective relationships between French and South Australian maritime defence businesses.
The Department of Defence (Defence) highlighted that:
Major capability projects such as the FSP not only build Australian defence industry capability, but also help partner nations, such as France, meet its defence needs by recognising Australia’s industry and its capabilities.
Defence noted a number of existing mechanisms that seek to strengthen Australian-French industry cooperation beyond the FSP, such as the Australia‑France Defence Industry Symposium and attendance at French international trade shows:
Defence is also continuing to increase the Australian defence industry’s exposure to French markets, through supported attendance at French international trade shows and targeted trade missions. These missions have included engagement with the French defence industry and related networking opportunities.
DFAT noted that the Australia-France Defence Industry Symposium has 'brought respective industry and government representatives together to identify opportunities for broader collaboration'. The FSP is covered in more detail in Chapter 3.
DISER informed the Committee that France is one of the largest spacefaring nations with one of the world's largest budgets dedicated to space:
In 2018, the French budget for space was €2.4 billion inclusive of their contribution to [the European Space Agency]. In addition, its extensive experience in space and significant programs position France as an important partner for Australia.
Mr Anthony Murfett, Deputy Head, Australian Space Agency, told the Committee that the purpose of Australia's new space agency in Adelaide is to 'grow and transform a globally respected space industry that grows the broader economy and inspires the nation'. Australia's vision is to:
… triple the size of the space economy, which is currently around $3.9 billion. We want to triple that to $12 billion and create another 20,000 jobs by 2030. We can do that because technology is now smaller, cheaper and easier to access.
There is an opportunity to grow the Australian space sector through industry collaboration with France and also the EU. It was also noted that the French space agency, Centre National D'Études Spatiales (CNES) was one of the first international space agencies to reach out to the Australian Space Agency when it was established and a memorandum of understanding was signed. This covers areas such as 'space situational awareness and how we can work together in looking at the earth from space' and also new areas such as:
… space law—because, now we have companies operating in space, we need to understand the legal constraints in which they need to operate to ensure that we continue to have access to space—and space medicine. Australia is well regarded for its medical capabilities, and that means that, as space becomes another area to operate, we can think about how we can leverage our strong medical base. So I think, in light of that, the opportunities are quite large.
Ambassador Penot also indicated to the Committee that he saw opportunities for greater cooperation in the space sector:
With space, it is the case that CNES, the French space agency, was the first national space agency to sign an agreement with your newly created Australian space agency. We focus on space, quantum communications, optical communications and earth observations. But there is greater scope for cooperation between us.
Areas of cooperation and Australian capability were detailed by Mr Murfett:
We know the international community, including France, is now really looking at Australia. Examples include drawing on space situational awareness—understanding what's in orbit around us so that we can ensure that environment is safe—and using satellites to look at the earth to understand how we can manage our crops, manage drought or even support things such as bushfire response. As we go back to the moon, we want to communicate faster. At the moment it uses radio waves. We can now think about using optical communication, which is a lot faster and reduces the latency. And we can use new technology, such as artificial intelligence, to process data of satellites a lot more quickly. Australia has many of these capabilities.
Mr Murfett spoke about space becoming an emerging opportunity and area of competitive advantage as there has been a transformation from it being an area where only government was involved to developing more commercial capacity with businesses of many sizes now involved. For example the company SpaceX is providing services to NASA to send astronauts back to the International Space Station. In discussing the expanding commercial market of small satellites, the Committee heard that Space X is about to release 10,000 small satellites. On notice, DISER provided additional information on this market including that there are 13 commercial operators in the sector.
DISER suggested that the existing relationships between the Australian space sector and France could be enhanced under the International Space Investment Initiative (ISI). ISI is the Australian Government’s program to support international engagements which 'provides $15 million for specific space projects that build relationships with international space agencies for the benefit of Australian businesses'. The program is open to all Australian organisations proposing projects with all international space agencies, including CNES. Project submissions were assessed by a panel and successful projects were announced in June 2020.
The South Australian Government, while noting networks and partnerships with France in the space sector are already established, saw significant opportunities for growth through engagement with French businesses and French based organisations such as the European Space Agency and Airbus. Opportunities may also 'include jointly bidding on pilot projects for $150 million Moon to Mars initiative and grant opportunities'. It highlighted that the University of South Australia ran the ActInSpace contest in Australia in 2018 and had registered to do so again in 2020, noting that the main event sponsors are the European and French space agencies and Airbus, thereby 'providing opportunities to build relationships with the French space sector, and to enhance the international profile of Australian businesses and organisations'.
The Northern Territory Government noted that it is ideally positioned to contribute to growth in the space industry by hosting key space industry infrastructure and services, including ground station systems, space launch, stratospheric ballooning facilities and downstream space industries'.
It outlined a number of benefits for launch facilities, ground station and downstream space industries, including: proximity to the equator; low population; southern hemisphere location and proximity to Asia; clear skies for much of the year; low light pollution; and limited noise interference.
Australia's first commercial space launch facility, Arnhem Space Centre, is being developed in Nhulunbuy which will provide opportunities across the satellite and launch supply chain. The Northern Territory Government summarised that:
The Northern Territory is the ideal place to meet the future demands of France’s growing space industry. The Northern Territory has already attracted two French space industry partners and is keen to work with more in the near future.
Growing research collaboration in the space sector is detailed in Chapter 6.
DISER advised that the Australian Government has committed to 'growing our domestic critical mineral supply and contributing to diversified global supply chains'. This includes:
… collaborating with trading partners, including the EU, to enhance two‑way trade and investment opportunities and supporting the development of more robust, secure, environmental and ethical critical minerals supply chains.
As outlined in Australia’s Critical Minerals Strategy 2019, 'Australia has high potential to supply nine of the minerals the EU considers to be critical: cobalt, gallium, germanium, hafnium, indium, platinum-group elements, rare earth elements, scandium and tantalum'.
DISER highlighted critical minerals investment in the context of technology cooperation and further integrating supply chains, stating that:
Australia has the potential to be a reliable and environmentally and ethically responsible supplier of critical minerals for France and the EU, providing increased trade and investment opportunities.
DISER emphasised this opportunity for Australia to the Committee, stating:
The opportunities for Australia are quite significant in terms of being a key source of supply for France. That's as Europe, as part of the European Green Deal, looks to source more responsible and sustainable sources of critical minerals and raw materials to service their growing electric vehicle market and to support their development of the renewable energy sector. Many of these minerals, including rare earths, are really important inputs into the development of new energy technology, so it's a huge opportunity for Australia.
The opportunity for Australia to offer security of supply for battery and other critical minerals applications, in sectors such as defence, renewable energy and automotive, was also highlighted by DFAT, noting:
Australia can meet France’s requirement for high environmental, social and governance standards, and is an attractive source of raw, and potentially of processed, critical minerals.
The Northern Territory Government conveyed its understanding that France is seeking to diversify its sourcing markets for critical minerals, highlighting that the Northern Territory 'offers substantial opportunities for France to source critical minerals for their defence, medical and tech industries'. The Northern Territory Government stated:
There are around 14 mining projects in various stages of the development approvals process, including a number that are close to an investment decision but which need finance or investment partners. This includes large scale rare earths, vanadium, copper, tungsten and phosphate projects. The rare earths and vanadium projects include significant downstream processing to produce high value products, and the Northern Territory Government encourages more minerals processing in the Northern Territory.
The Northern Territory Government added that:
Since 2006, French companies have been involved in four mineral investment deals worth $14.2 million (including oil and gas and silver). European companies are our third largest source of investment into the Northern Territory’s minerals and energy sectors.
DISER reported that a Critical Minerals Facilitation Office has been established to:
… drive and coordinate a national approach to critical minerals and has commenced discussions with France on areas for collaboration, including the potential to combine French rare earths processing expertise and Australian critical mineral projects, to develop Australia’s downstream potential and supply processed rare earths to French companies.
Initiatives in this area with other countries include a US-Australia Critical Minerals Dialogue which occurred in November 2019. These talks resulted in agreement that 'each country's export finance agencies will work together at financing potential critical minerals and rare earths projects'.
DISER highlighted the opportunity to 'support France's growing mining sector through industry led engagement on the provision of mining equipment, technology and services [METS]'. This includes 'remote operating vehicles, horizontal drilling, airborne exploration technologies, energy-efficient comminution and mineral flotation'.
According to DISER, Australian mining companies are already well established in the French market which assists Australian METS companies, for example:
In 2013, Variscan secured an exploration licence in Brittany. In 2017, Australia-based Apollo Minerals acquired Ariege Tungstene SAS, which holds an 80 per cent interest in the Couflens tungsten-copper-gold project, covering a 42 square kilometre area in the Pyrenees region, 130 kilometres south of Toulouse. The area also includes the historic Salau mine, which is also believed to have good potential to be brought back into production. The reopening and modernisation of French mines will consequently increase the demand for mining equipment, technology and services.
DISER added that there are significant opportunities for future export growth to France and an increase in French investment in the Australian mining sector, because:
Since 2017, the French Government has been pushing towards revitalising the French mining sector, through regulatory reform as well as its ‘Responsible Mining’ initiative, which focuses on reducing the environmental impacts of mining operations to maintain the sector’s social licence to operate. The Australian METS sector, which has invested heavily in technologies to minimise waste and deliver world-leading environmental and safety performance, is well-placed to capitalise on this opportunity.
Opportunities for French companies in Australia are expanding and DISER reported that in 2019 a French delegation of 13 companies visited Western Australia:
The visit included an introduction of the mining industry of WA, a presentation on the mining innovation and potential institutional partners, and a presentation by a panel of companies already active in the Australian mining market.
In relation to mining, the South Australian Government noted that the current base of exports to France is 'relatively small'. However it identified potential growth opportunities in technology and innovation. As an example:
… the University of Adelaide’s Institute for Mineral and Energy Resources signed a strategic partnership agreement with French company Dassault Systèmes in December 2018 to collaborate on programs to explore digital solutions for mining and energy companies in Australia. This collaboration could provide a model for further development of partnerships in the natural resources industry for French companies with Australian business and academic communities.
The Northern Territory Government provided an example of significant French investment in the Australian energy sector:
In late 2018 one of the world’s largest oil and gas projects, Ichthys LNG, commenced production in Darwin and generated a significant boost in Australia’s export earnings. The Ichthys LNG project will provide 10 per cent of Japan’s energy requirements. The Northern Territory is proud to have a strong relationship with the French oil and gas enterprise ‘Total’, which currently has 26% equity in the Ichthys LNG Project (US$34 billion at Final Investment Decision and represents France’s largest ever investment in Australia).
In addition to Total's investment in the Northern Territory, the French oil and gas company also owns 27.5 per cent of the Gladstone LNG project in Queensland, operated by Santos.
The Australian-French Association for Research and Innovation Inc. (AFRAN) identified the energy sector as an area for future growth in bilateral trade and investment:
French-Australian research and innovation in the Energy sector has unprecedented room for innovation and new market opportunities. By strengthening and expanding existing and new French-Australian research and industry collaborations, such a cooperation can generate substantial benefits for Australia and the Republic of France, with global impact.
AFRAN described the French energy company Neoen as a current example of bilateral cooperation that is already succeeding in the renewable energy sector:
The 2017 Australian Investment Awards nominated French energy company Neoen’s $1 billion worth of investments in renewable energy projects in Australia, including a 20-year investment in the Renewable Energy Skills Centre of Excellence at the Canberra Institute of Technology. Evidence such as this highlights a strong basis from which future investment, trade and cooperation may be developed.
AFRAN added that there is 'tremendous potential in the renewables space which is supposed to grow extremely rapidly in the next 10 years'. Professor Francois Aguey-Zinsou, Vice President of AFRAN, stated:
… when we look at Australia, we have a lot of space, we have a lot [of] plans and it's actually a very good bed for testing technology for various French companies and also research institutions … with Australia being in Asia and the French Pacific islands also being nearby, there is a lot of potential to look at the application of renewable energy and converting and using renewable energy and developing a new economy around that.
Professor Aguey-Zinsou added that in France, 'there are a lot of incubator systems that we could learn from on how you start up, how you finance innovation and how you get innovation to become global, with global impact. I think this is where the synergies are'.
The Embassy of France noted that French and Australian researchers and institutions have identified 'energy and material' as a key area of common interest. Particularly within the areas of 'energy storage, renewable energy, hydrogen, electrical engineering and smart systems'. DISER also saw the opportunity for further cooperation on hydrogen and renewable energy technologies. Professor Aguey-Zinsou highlighted that hydrogen is supposed to become a '$2.5 trillion economy by 2050'. Details of renewable energy research and development are in Chapter 6.
DFAT provided detail on the work underway in the area of FinTech:
Australia is working to position itself as a regional fintech hub for French firms, given our robust fintech ecosystem, world-class regulatory regime and government policy settings. Greater bilateral cooperation on fintech at the government, business and regulatory levels will build momentum for the sector in both countries.
In January 2020 the Australian Trade and Investment Commission organised a 'Landing Pad Bootcamp' in Switzerland, France and Germany, coinciding with the Paris Fintech Forum.
In relation to developments with other countries in the area of FinTech, Australia has a 'FinTech Bridge' with the UK which was established in 2018. There is also a Cooperation Agreement between Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) and the Hong Kong Securities and Futures (SFC) which:
… enables SFC and ASIC to refer innovative FinTech businesses to each other for advice and support via ASIC's innovation hub and its Hong Kong equivalent, the SFC's Fintech Contact point. This means Australian FinTech businesses wishing to operate in Hong Kong will now have a simple pathway for engaging with the SFC, and vice versa.
In June 2020 the Australian Government announced it would explore how an existing 'FinTech bridge' with the UK could be extended to Singapore 'to assist fintech start-ups take advantage of closer digital trade between the countries'.
The Embassy of France identified the digital economy as an area both Australia and France have taken a lead role in 'with a view to ensure a better and fairer repartition of the benefits created by the digital economy phenomenon'. The Embassy noted that 'Australia’s participation in the G7 meeting in Biarritz in 2019 has been decisive in this regard'.
In 2018, the Australian Government released Australia's Tech Future detailing how Australia can work together to 'deliver a strong, safe and inclusive economy, enabled by digital technology'.
DISER reported that the Australia's Tech Future strategy released in 2018 outlines Australia's priorities, where to target investment and the impact of the digital economy on various people, groups and industry sectors. It also highlights:
… significant work already happening across government and ensures all Australians will benefit and share in the opportunities of a modern digital economy. It identifies the role of government in seizing the benefits of digital transformation including shaping international standards, digital trade rules and championing an open, free and secure cyber space to provide the enabling environment to realise the opportunities of digitisation.
DISER stated that in 2019, Australia along with France and other countries adopted the OECD Artificial Intelligence (AI) Principles, which were upgraded into the G20 AI Principles in Osaka, Japan. Further, in 2019, as noted above, Australia was invited by France to participate in some G7 discussions on digital economy issues.
DISER provided the example of the Virtual Shipyard Program, a collaboration between the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, the South Australian Government and the French software company, Dassault Systèmes. Since this collaboration, the program has supported '14 South Australian SMEs [Small and Medium-sized Enterprises] to develop digital capabilities in product and process innovation, in line with the naval shipbuilding enterprise'. DISER's Industry Growth Centres Initiative is discussed in more detail below.
Infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific
While the Committee did not receive direct evidence on this area of opportunity, in 2019, the Australian Parliament passed the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation Amendment (Support for Infrastructure Financing) Bill 2019 which will ensure the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation:
… more actively supports Australia's step-up in the Pacific and our agenda for an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific by enhancing its role in overseas infrastructure projects.
In a joint media-release by Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and Senator the Hon Marise Payne, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the ministers noted '[t]he Pacific has significant unmet demand for high-quality infrastructure that will help boost living standards':
We’re stepping up support for regional infrastructure development because we know that well-planned, well-built and well-maintained infrastructure can boost sustainable economic growth, enhance economic integration and deliver broader development outcomes.
Industry Growth Centres Initiative
At the industry level, initiatives such as the Industry Growth Centres Initiative also provide the opportunity to promote Australian industry engagement internationally and seek potential collaborative opportunities. The Growth Centres have participated in a number of delegations and trade missions with France for the purpose of 'knowledge exchange, building mutual awareness and seeking out collaborative projects and stakeholder engagement opportunities'.
DISER noted that 2016 was the last year of 'significant activity with France' with a number of Growth Centres involved in numerous collaborative events, including:
DISER met with stakeholders from across Europe, including France, to gauge interest to engage with the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre;
The Food and Agribusiness Growth Centre (FIAL) visited food clusters in France to gain insights on successful clusters;
MTP Connect (the Medical Technologies and Pharmaceutical Growth Centre) and FIAL were involved in the Australian-French Entrepreneurship Challenge in June 2016;
In November 2016 representatives from FIAL, MTP Connect and the Oil, Gas and Energy Resources Growth Centre (NERA) visited European clusters to bring back learnings and provide recommendations for local implementation.
With reference to the Industry Growth Centres Initiative, DISER outlined the benefits of industry collaboration to the Committee:
Collaboration activities have helped various Growth Centres to successfully partner with French firms, and have helped to create a platform for future opportunities in particular within the advanced manufacturing and medical technology sectors.
In addition to specific areas of cooperation, economic and commercial opportunities in the following regions were also highlighted to the Committee.
DFAT pointed out opportunities to strengthen Australia's economic partnership with the French territories, particularly New Caledonia, noting two-way trade with New Caledonia in 2018-19 was A$721 million. The potential growth sectors where Australian expertise, technology and investment are already highly valued include: mining, tourism, education and agriculture. Australian companies active in New Caledonia include ANZ, Qantas, Carnival Australia, New Century and Bluescope. DFAT advised that in February 2020, 'New Caledonia’s Minister for the Economy equivalent visited Australia with a significant business delegation … to discuss opportunities for closer engagement in a range of sectors, especially energy'.
In 2016 New Caledonia and French Polynesia became full members of the Pacific Islands Forum. DFAT indicated that since becoming members of the forum, both territories are 'looking to increase their regional economic links'.
DISER reported that the METS sector 'presents the biggest opportunity to increase engagement in the French Pacific, with the revitalisation of the mining industry in French overseas territories'.
The Northern Territory Government suggested promoting Darwin as a major player in the maritime services industry to provide not only strategic but also economic opportunities:
… the Northern Territory is building the largest ship lift in Northern Australia … to position Darwin as a major international and national player in the marine services industry. The 103 metre, 5000 tonne, ship lift will be capable of servicing large vessels from industries including offshore petroleum, fishing, pearling, Defence and Border Force. There is significant potential for French Navy vessels to undertake some level of maintenance in the Northern Territory, including unscheduled emergency repairs.
North and West Africa
DFAT highlighted that 'French and Australian commercial and security interests also coincide in North and West Africa' as 'Australia has significant commercial - and related consular - interests in the region, chiefly in extractive industries'. The ongoing security challenges in the region provide opportunities for Australia to work 'collaboratively with French authorities and security forces to safeguard our interests'.
European Union Free Trade Agreement
To complement the areas of opportunity raised above, witnesses highlighted the importance of the ongoing negotiations between Australia and the European Union (EU) for a free trade agreement (FTA). Since the negotiations launched on 18 June 2018, DFAT advised that there has been good progress and when the negotiations are concluded, the European Council and European Parliament will be responsible for approving the FTA for the EU.
Australia and France agree that the EU FTA will strengthen and expand trade and investment between Australia and France. In relation to the EU FTA, the Embassy of France advised that 'France strongly supports the swift completion of the ongoing negotiations, with the view to reaching an ambitious and balanced agreement'. It further noted that the agreement has the potential to:
… significantly reduce the remaining obstacles to trade and investment between our two countries (including topics such as public procurement, sanitary and phytosanitary rules and intellectual property).
DISER advised on the potential of this FTA:
An FTA with the EU has the potential to open up a market for Australian goods and services of 500 million people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of USD 17.3 trillion.
DISER provided more detail:
The EU free trade agreement which we're currently negotiating provides a good opportunity for us to expand the trading opportunities with France. Some of our resources exports do face tariffs going into the EU. They're not particularly large tariffs from a percentage point of view, but, when you're looking at two-way trade figures in the billions of dollars, all of those potential tariff reductions can benefit.
In addition to tariff liberalisation, DISER advised:
Australian negotiators are pursuing rules of origin that facilitate market access and reflect modern production processes; and provisions to ensure standards, technical regulations and conformity assessment procedures do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade with France and the broader EU.
DFAT informed the Committee that Australia has 'significant agricultural interest in this FTA'. Ms Jan Hutton, Deputy Chief Negotiator, European Union Free Trade Agreement, DFAT, told the Committee:
A lot of our agricultural products, as you might know, have very limited access into the EU market at the moment, and Australia hasn't had its access improved or enhanced in the EU market for quite some time—since the Uruguay Round, in fact, which was 20-odd years ago. In the meantime, the EU have been negotiating free trade agreements with other partners, which means that some of our agricultural exporters are at a competitive disadvantage compared with competitors who already have preferential access into the EU markets. So the government is absolutely looking to negotiate a comprehensive and ambitious free trade agreement with the EU.
In support of the EU FTA negotiations, Australia hosted a delegation of French farmers in 2019, under the auspices of the AFiniti. DAWE stated that the visit:
… deepened engagement at the farmer and representative body levels and targeted on the ground advocacy about Australian agriculture in support of the Australia-EU FTA. Events, such as this delegation visit, facilitate valuable farmer-to-farmer linkages and allow for open and honest conversations and relationship building, leading to improved trade relationships.
The Northern Territory Government supported the EU FTA and encourages 'the Australian Government to continue to strengthen and streamline trade barriers with our trading partners in Europe'.
The South Australian Government also supported the EU FTA advising that:
South Australia anticipates that the successful conclusion of the EU‑Australia Free Trade Agreement will provide a platform for further growth in Australian food and wine trade with France across the board.
Mr Jennings spoke about the effect the completion of the EU FTA will have for Australian business:
If we can conclude this free trade agreement with the EU reasonably quickly—and there seems to be optimism that that is the case—I think, even without government support, there's going to be a huge amount of business that will go to Europe looking to create connections.