Foreign Affairs and Trade: Regional Australia—Driving Our Economy 2017–18

The Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio’s objective is to help make Australia stronger, safer and more prosperous by promoting and protecting Australia’s interests internationally and contributing to global stability and economic growth. A prosperous regional Australia is at the core of these national interests.

Recognising the importance of regional Australia, the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio has a significant presence across Australia through offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Austrade, Tourism Australia, the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation and over 1,600 Australia Post outlets delivering passport services. This is complemented by Australia’s expanding international diplomatic network, which advances Australia’s national interests around the world. In particular, the diplomatic network also connects regional Australia to export markets and investment opportunities, while advocating and promoting regional Australian interests. As an example, the heads of Australia’s diplomatic network took the opportunity presented by the March 2017 Global Heads of Mission Meeting to engage with a range of stakeholders in rural and regional Australia, and State and Territory capitals.

Openness to international trade and investment is central to Australia’s economic prosperity. The Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio assists regional Australian companies to identify and pursue international commercial opportunities. This openness is underlined by Australia’s many free trade agreements (FTAs) with countries including China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. The Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio is working with regional Australian businesses to help them best realise the benefits of these FTAs, including through a program of information seminars across the country.

The Australian Government is working to drive regional growth by promoting foreign direct investment that is in the national interest and contributes to growth. Australia has a clear comparative advantage in agribusiness, resources and energy, all largely based in regional areas. In northern Australia, the portfolio is working to attract investment through ‘gateway’ infrastructure projects that will link Australia’s north with the Indo-Pacific region, improving our ability to trade and access international markets.

Almost two-thirds of Australia’s total export earnings come from regional industries. Where private financial markets are unable or unwilling to support regional business to take advantage of commercial export and overseas investment opportunities, the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio can provide practical support through working capital, insurance and other financial solutions. The Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio is also supporting widespread efforts to help regional Australia benefit from labour mobility, including through the Seasonal Worker Program.

Tourism remains a key contributor to many regional economies as a significant source of income; 44 cents in every tourist dollar is spent in regional Australia. Working in partnership with State and Territory governments, industry and commercial partners, the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio is implementing programs to build demand and increase visitor numbers and spending. This includes encouraging tourists to regional areas.

New Initiatives

Supporting Jobs and Growth

The Australian Government is providing $16.6 million over four years from 2016–17 to 2019–2020 for several new initiatives supporting jobs and growth, including across regional Australia, through trade and investment. As part of these initiatives, the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio is helping connect regional Australian producers to global export markets by: working towards the establishment of a single window for export documentation (supporting the Department of Immigration and Border Protection); pursuing the recognition of professional qualifications internationally; and expanding the portfolio’s outreach activities to explain FTAs to the community.

Current Initiatives

Expanding Australia’s Overseas Representation and Strengthening Australia’s Ability to Trade and Attract Foreign Investment

The Australian Government has allocated $57.9 million over four years from 2016–17 to 2019–20 for the expansion of the nation’s diplomatic footprint. This includes new embassies in Rabat (Morocco) and Bogota (Colombia), and consulates in Surabaya (eastern Indonesia) and Shenyang (north-eastern China).

These new posts build on posts opened in 2016–17, including the embassies in Doha (Qatar) and Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia), and consulates in Lae (Papua New Guinea), Phuket (Thailand) and Makassar (Indonesia).

Australia’s new diplomatic missions are bolstering trade and investment opportunities for regional Australia, including in the resources sector. They provide important gateways into emerging markets, helping businesses in regional Australia to capitalise on the opportunities available.

Helping Business Make the Most of Australia’s Free Trade Agreements

Australia’s ten FTAs—including with China, Japan and the Republic of Korea—provide Australian businesses with preferential access to markets and a legally guaranteed framework for trade and investment for the benefit of regional producers and service industries. FTAs deliver benefits to Australian exporters and investors that give them an immediate and longer-term competitive advantage over competitors including: significant elimination and cuts to import tariffs, including for Australian beef, dairy, horticulture, wine, resources and energy and manufacturing sectors; and enhanced services market access in priority sectors such as education, professional and telecommunications services. Regional Australia will also benefit from reduced import costs for businesses and consumers.

To help regional Australian businesses connect with global markets, the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio conducts FTA information seminars for regional, rural and metropolitan businesses. The seminars complement the FTA Training Provider Grants program, which enables organisations across Australia to provide training to SME’s on using the FTAs.

Additional to the FTA information seminar series and grants program, the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio works closely with other relevant agencies, industry groups, business associations and firms to gain information on barriers to trade and investment which is factored into FTA negotiating strategies, and to help promote FTAs to business stakeholders to encourage them to utilise the benefits of the agreements.

The Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio is enhancing the Australian Government’s online FTA portal by extending it to all ten of Australia’s FTAs.

Bilateral, Regional and Plurilateral Trade Negotiations

The Australian Government is committed to further opening new markets and pursuing trade liberalisation and reforms globally. A core priority is to secure new market opportunities and greater certainty over operating conditions in sectors of particular importance to regional Australia, notably agriculture and food, resources, and services.

The Australian Government attaches a high priority to the conclusion of bilateral FTA negotiations with Indonesia, along with negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP, which involves ASEAN, China, Japan, India, the Republic of Korea, Australia and New Zealand), and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus.

FTA negotiations with India are also ongoing and we are seeking the resumption of negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council. Steps have been taken toward the launch of FTA negotiations with the European Union, and discussions on a future possible FTA are underway with a number of countries including the United Kingdom and countries in Latin America.

In addition, the Australian Government is pursuing built-in work programs and negotiations under existing FTAs. A major review of the Singapore FTA in 2016 generated major outcomes on services and investment. Negotiations have also been launched with China to upscale the commitments in the China-Australia FTA (ChAFTA) on services and investment.

World Trade Organization (WTO)

Australia continues to support the WTO multilateral trade rules system, including as the primary mechanism for resolving disputes, and is actively seeking to achieve outcomes that would generate benefits for the rural and regional economy, notably in the area of agriculture where Australia has led the Cairns Group coalition of countries for more than 30 years in support of agricultural trade reform. While FTAs open new markets, only in the WTO can disciplines be agreed to address trade-distorting measures such as subsidies.

At the next WTO ministerial meeting in Argentina in December 2017, Australia will work with others, including the Cairns Group, to continue to press for further reforms in key sectors that will support open world trade and compliance with WTO rules.

The entry into force in February 2017 of the WTO Agreement on Trade Facilitation will free up the movement of goods across international borders and will deliver practical benefits to regional Australian businesses who import or export, as well as to Australian consumers, through reduced costs.

The Government also continues its efforts to accede to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement, and to conclude the plurilateral Environmental Goods Agreement and the Trade in Services Agreement, a services-only negotiation covering around 70 per cent of world services trade, which will benefit regional services suppliers.

Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

Although the US Administration has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), the Government is engaged in discussions with other TPP signatories to explore options that would enable the economic and commercial benefits of the agreement to be captured. These discussions reflect a view by Australia and other TPP parties on the significance of the agreement in terms of new access opportunities and trade-enhancing rules as well as its value as a contribution to the long-term goal of regional economic integration.

Advancing Economic Reforms and Regulatory Coherence Globally and Addressing Non-Tariff Measures

The Australian Government is pursuing a more open and predictable business environment, by engaging in discussions to promote economic reforms, regulatory coherence and structural reforms in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the OECD, Codex and the World Customs Organization (WCO). These organisations establish or influence standards and norms that can impact Australia’s commercial interests.

The Australian Government is active in addressing non-tariff measures (NTMs). Our FTAs and WTO processes provide avenues for doing this. WTO rules are designed to ensure that Members apply regulations in a manner that is not more trade restrictive than necessary to fulfil a legitimate policy objective. Australia regularly raises concerns about the WTO consistency of particular NTMs through various WTO committees.


TradeStart delivers Austrade’s export advisory services through local public sector and industry organisations throughout Australia. The prime objective of the TradeStart network is to assist export ready SMEs to develop international markets for their products and services.

Of the 28 TradeStart locations, 23 are in regional areas, providing greater access to Austrade services for businesses in these regions. Recent investments in IT platforms will allow regional businesses, through TradeStart, to digitally connect to Austrade’s global network.

TradeStart advisers provide practical export advice to around 2,000 export-ready companies throughout Australia each year, and work closely with the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio’s international network to facilitate assistance for these exporters in overseas markets.

Attracting Investment into Northern Australia

The Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio is working to attract investment in northern Australia through ‘gateway’ infrastructure projects linking Australia’s north to the Indo–Pacific region, improving our ability to access international markets.

As part of this, Austrade will continue to support regional businesses by providing international investors with information about the various forms of land tenure and native title across northern Australia as part of a broader approach to informing investors about opportunities. Austrade will also work with selected Indigenous landholders to develop case studies on how project proponents can work with investors.

The Northern Australia Agribusiness Partnership is also helping encourage investment–led development of northern Australia.

Austrade will continue to hold the Northern Australian Investment Forum to build investor engagement, highlight progress and opportunities, and demonstrate government and community commitment, including state and territory buy-in, to foreign investment in northern Australia. The next forum is scheduled for late 2017.

Promoting Foreign Direct Investment

The Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio will continue to build on its investment promotion work, which was strengthened in 2015–16 with new funding of $30 million over four years. Austrade and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to promote Australia’s credentials and develop our position as a preferred investment destination.


The Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (Efic) has developed an online platform that allows Australian SMEs to apply for export finance entirely online. This is in line with the Australian Government’s focus on making it easier for SMEs to do business. The platform—called ‘EficDirect’—has a quick, simple and efficient application process, which can be completed in as little as 30 minutes and a loan could be provided within nine business days. Online access will be particularly beneficial for SME exporters that are based in remote areas of Australia.

Labour Mobility

The Australian Government’s Seasonal Worker Program, led by the Department of Employment and supported by the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio, assists in addressing the low-skilled seasonal labour needs of Australian employers. Since its launch in 2012, the Seasonal Worker Program has enabled 14,000 workers from participating Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste to undertake seasonal work in Australia’s agriculture sector, the accommodation sector (in selected locations) and northern Australia tourism industries.

In addition, the Northern Australia-Pacific Microstates Pilot Program, launched in June 2015, aims to bring up to 250 workers from Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu to undertake non-seasonal work for two to three years in Australia, focused on the tourism and aged-care sectors. Both the Seasonal Worker Program and the Northern Australia-Pacific Microstates Pilot Program help address labour shortages in regional Australia, support Australian businesses and grow regional economies, where there are not enough local Australian job seekers to meet demand.

The Australian Government has also sought to ensure Australia remains an attractive destination for working holidaymakers through a global youth-targeted advertising campaign.

New Colombo Plan

The Australian Government’s New Colombo Plan gives undergraduates from around Australia the opportunity to participate in study and internship programs in the Indo-Pacific region. Since 2014, close to 20 per cent of New Colombo Plan scholarship recipients have been from regional and remote areas. The numbers of student grants provided to regional universities under the New Colombo Plan increased by 40 per cent in 2017. The Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio will continue to promote the benefits of the New Colombo Plan in deepening relationships between Australia and the region, both at the individual level and through expanding university, business, people-to-people and other links.

Promoting International Education

Austrade continues to work closely with the Department of Education and Training to promote opportunities for regional Australia under the National Strategy for International Education 2025 and Australian International Education 2025, including by working with education institutions and regional providers to internationalise their business.

The Future Unlimited education brand launched in 2011 for promoting Australian education internationally is administered by Austrade and is available for use by regional providers—demonstrating the positive outcomes of an Australian education. Austrade also continues to manage the Study in Australia website (, the official Australian Government platform, which provides information for existing and potential international students and showcases regional study locations in each jurisdiction. The social media and marketing channels managed by Austrade are further used to repurpose and leverage marketing content produced across Australia and are open to joint-campaigns and activity to showcase regional opportunities.

International Agricultural Research

The Australian Government is committed to improving agricultural productivity and profitability throughout the Indo-Pacific region, with significant flow-on benefits for regional Australia in areas such as biosecurity, innovation, technology, research capabilities and trade. Through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, Australia’s world class agricultural researchers in a range of State and Commonwealth agencies, universities and the private sector are working with counterparts in developing countries to enhance and promote agricultural competitiveness and sustainability, increased market access, and value-chain efficiencies and effectiveness. These benefits also flow back to Australia’s agricultural industries.

Export Market Development Grants Scheme

The Export Market Development Grants scheme is a key Australian Government financial assistance scheme. It encourages small to medium-sized, aspiring and growing export-ready businesses to increase international marketing and promotional expenditure to achieve more sustainable export sales.

Administered by Austrade, the Export Market Development Grants scheme reimburses up to 50 per cent of eligible export promotion expenses above $5,000 provided the total expenses are over $15,000. Subject to available funds, the maximum grant for eligible applicants is $150,000.

Of the 2,969 grants paid for the 2014–15 grant year, more than 17 per cent were awarded to recipients from rural and regional Australia, providing almost $18.0 million in financial support to 515 regional recipients (up from 441 in the 2013–14 grant year).

Australia Week Events

The Australian Government will continue to create opportunities for businesses from regional and metropolitan areas to build and expand their business ties overseas. Austrade will deliver business-focused missions in important markets to showcase Australian capabilities and investment opportunities and promote Australia as a world-class tourism destination and education partner. This will build on the success of Australia Week events in China (2014 and 2016), Indonesia (2015 and 2017), India (2015) and the United States (2016).


Australia’s Tourism 2020 national tourism strategy aims for over $115 billion in overnight visitor expenditure by the end of the decade. It includes initiatives such as Tourism Employment Plans, Major Project Facilitation and the Tourism Demand—Driver Infrastructure Program. These programs will help regional communities grow jobs and diversify their economic base.

Practical initiatives, including Tourism Employment Plans, help regional businesses build a skilled tourism workforce. Pilot plans have been completed in eight ‘hot spot’ regions, addressing recruitment, retention and up–skilling needs across Broome, Red Centre, Mornington Peninsula—Phillip Island, Kangaroo Island, Tropical North Queensland, Canberra, Sydney, and in the North West and West coast of Tasmania.

The Australian Government’s “There’s nothing like Australia” global marketing campaign highlights the attractions and experiences Australian tourism has to offer. The campaign currently focuses on promoting beach, coastal and inland aquatic tourism experiences, including the Great Barrier Reef and Great Ocean Road. Tourism Australia will also continue the Restaurant Australia campaign and support campaigns focused on business events, youth and working holidaymakers, and Indigenous tourism experiences, all of which resonate strongly in regional Australia.

In response to Tropical Cyclone Debbie’s damaging impact on Queensland’s tourism sector the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, together with the Queensland Government, has announced an additional $3.5 million to the Tourism Demand Driver Infrastructure Program. This will be allocated to individual infrastructure programs in cyclone affected tourism regions. Additionally, up to $1 million of Tourism Australia’s marketing investment will be reprioritised to promote Queensland tourism destinations.

Regional Tourism Infrastructure Investment Attraction Strategy

Austrade and Tourism Australia have also developed a five-year Regional Tourism Infrastructure Investment Attraction Strategy that will better coordinate efforts to attract foreign investment into regional tourism infrastructure. 

Landing Pads in Innovation Hot Spots

As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, Austrade has established five Landing Pads in Berlin, San Francisco, Shanghai, Singapore and Tel Aviv. Landing Pads provide market-ready start-ups from right across Australia with access to some of the world’s most renowned innovation and start-up ecosystems. The immersive environment is designed to accelerate the development of a start-up’s product or service business model by exploring in-market business development, investment, mentorship and strategic partnership opportunities.

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