As the dust settles from the G20 Summit last month, implications of the outcomes of the G20 are becoming more apparent. At the time, typical media coverage included criticism of the decision not to put climate change on the agenda, criticism of the Prime Minister’s opening address, President Obama’s much applauded address to the University of Queensland, and protests from Indigenous groups and environmental activists.
While there is no doubt some of these criticisms and events arose from a number of serious underlying issues that need to be addressed, reporting of the G20 then and since has overlooked or at least not fully appreciated some immensely positive implications for Australia.
Up until now, the perception of Australia by the rest of the world has been that “the lucky country” will prosper from foreigners wanting to visit and explore our natural beauty, and that the demand for our natural resources from developing nations such as China will continue for a long time to come.
Perhaps this is true in the short to medium term. However, it was the G20 that put Australia on the world map. Australian leaders demonstrated that we have a sophisticated and nuanced view of the rest of the world and that modern Australia has much to offer its people and to contribute to international relationships and global advancement.
With only 23 million people, Australia is the worlds twelfth largest economy, has the fifth most traded currency, has the tenth largest stock exchange, is seventh on the Prosperity Index, has the fifth highest GDP per capita, had the fourth highest number of new businesses established in 2013, and has experienced 23 years of uninterrupted economic growth. It is not possible to trade Renminbi in New York but now it will be possible in Sydney.
Australia is seen as having highly effective economic and public governance institutions, reliable legal systems, business and investment certainty, and a highly skilled and educated labour force – all of which have put us in good stead for challenges that may lie ahead.
In foreign affairs, the Australian Government was resolute on its stance on MH17 and was active in its Chairmanship of the United Nations Security Council. A lot of feedback from Heads of State and their delegations has reflected Australia’s very focused and pragmatic approach to finding measures to increase global GDP by an additional 2.1% above projected figures by 2018. A popularly mentioned example was the finalisation of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China that occurred in the margins of the G20.
The FTA was significant not only because it had been 10 years in the making but also because of the vast scope of the agreement in areas that will allow unprecedented market entry into China. The WTO recently noted in its Overview of Developments in the International Trading Environment that the stock of trade restrictions by WTO Members (there are 160) since 2008 continues to rise. The FTA with China is an exception and is estimated to inject $18 billion into the Australian economy over the next decade.
In addition to China, Australian officials were able to put a timetable on FTA negotiations with India. To date every other nation who has attempted to do the same has been unsuccessful. Australia leapt ahead of the queue and an FTA with India is expected to be completed within a year. The agreement will have huge implications for our bi-lateral research capability, diplomatic ties, and uranium and natural gas exports. Australia is on track to become the world’s biggest exporter of gas and demand from India’s aspiring 300 million middle-class by 2030 is enormous.
For the first time European Heads of State – Prime Minister Cameron, Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Renzi, and President Hollande – announced their desire to see an FTA negotiated with Australia. In a trading bloc consisting of 28 individual Member States, there are a number of significant reforms needed within the European Union (EU) market to allow smooth negotiation of an FTA.
Other outcomes of the G20 included an agreement to establish a Global Infrastructure Initiative to drive the financing and development of major projects, supported by a knowledge-sharing Global Infrastructure Hub to be based in Sydney; addressing international profits shifting and corporate tax evasion; a resolution to reduce the gap in employment participation rates between men and women by 25 per cent by 2025, bringing an additional 100 million women into the labour force; a plan to improve energy efficiency in power generation and industrial use; and, a two year plan to combat corruption.
The success of Australia’s Chairmanship of the G20 is not the end of the story, but the beginning of something special. We have portrayed our values to the rest of the world and perceptions of ourselves will and already have refined toward a desire to do better and to take on responsibility.
Either Australia can choose to be like the Grand Slam winner who dwindles into obscurity following a taste of glory, or like a great nation willing to take on responsibility. The latter will mean accepting responsibility for global issues regardless of whether we are affected or not.
It will mean acknowledging others’ interests as well as our own and to do our very best to find common ground on contentious issues. That is how a global leader acts and that is what it will take for the rest of the world and our own citizens to hold our elected officials, officials, community and business leaders and everyone in between, to high esteem.
We will all be participants in this transformation and the good news is that none of it is beyond our grasp.