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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
29/10/2015
Australia's relationship with Mexico

VALDERRAMA, Dr Brenda, Minister, Innovation, Science and Technology Ministry, State of Morelos, Mexico

[10:33]

Evidence was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR: I now welcome Dr Valderrama, a representative of the state government of Morelos. Before we begin, I must advise you that, as you are providing evidence from a foreign jurisdiction, your evidence cannot be protected by parliamentary privilege. However, as you are giving evidence voluntarily, you may at any time make a request to be heard in camera if you have concerns your evidence may cause you harm. Do you have anything to say about the capacity in which you appear today?

Dr Valderrama : I am calling to support the initiative of having a tighter collaboration between Australia and Mexico.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Dr Valderrama. Would you like to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to questions?

Dr Valderrama : We hear that Australia and Mexico have a lot of similarities and also a lot of differences. We want to stress the similarities in order to provide better resources and better ways to manage our differences. Mexico has a lot of biodiversity and a very strong heritage. On the other hand, Australia has managed to accelerate development with care for natural resources. We think that a combination of both situations could be an improvement for both countries.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Dr Valderrama. I note that you were previously at the Institute of Biotechnology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, in the Department of Molecular Medicine and Bioprocesses. Given your role now as the Minister for Innovation, Science and Technology, are there any priority areas which you would like to inform the committee of that are suitable for cooperation or collaboration with Australia?

Dr Valderrama : Absolutely. We think that the biomedical field, especially the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical fields, could be one of our main collaboration areas. I have been travelling to Australia and visiting some research centres. We think that the level of maturity of the research is comparable between Mexico and Australia. Their approach is very different but also complementary.

CHAIR: Are there any existing examples of collaboration or cooperation that are beneficial for the inquiry if it is to form a view as to where Australia should be increasing its cooperation?

Dr Valderrama : Yes. We have already set a draft program of scholarships in our state of Morelos for students to go to Australia to get a master's degree or a PhD. On the other hand, we are willing to have more close collaboration agreements between universities in Mexico and in Australia in very specific fields. There are two fields I would like to point out. One is water management, and the other one is innovation administration.

CHAIR: What are the impediments to furthering that cooperation or collaboration? Are they visas or language or travel? What are the impediments?

Dr Valderrama : I think that language can be improved. If we have a collaboration program, maybe we can invest in improving the language abilities for Mexican students. I think that the main problem is now that the collaboration level is between the Australian government and CONACYT, which is the national research council, and in that sense the collaboration does not tend to impact at the state level. We would like to have a closer relationship with Australia, perhaps at state level or at the university level, so we can speed it up.

CHAIR: Senator Back has some questions for you.

Senator BACK: Thank you very much, Dr Valderrama. Thank you for giving us your time as a minister of your government. The chairman has asked this of other witnesses, and I think it is a very fair question. You are geographically very close to the United States, and you have the North American Free Trade Agreement with the USA and Canada. Can you assist the committee in having us understand where the benefit is to you in collaborating more closely with Australia, when you have on your border such an enormous country with enormous wealth and population and, indeed, a focus on innovation, science and technology? We are delighted to think that you might want to collaborate with Australia, but we are intrigued as to why.

Dr Valderrama : I think that there is a fine difference between the approach from Australia and from the States. I think that Australia favours the public, favours the local benefit and favours the environment, which are not precisely the goals of the American companies or American governments. So we think that for Mexico, just at the edge of making a long-term decision, having the Australian point of view could be very refreshing. And it could also give us a different approach to very substantial projects—as I told you, the exploitation of the seas or water management, for instance.

Senator BACK: To assist our understanding—is your state in an arid zone of Mexico? You have mentioned water management a couple of times, and that certainly is an area in which we have expertise, because Australia is a very dry continent. Is it in water management associated with agriculture that your challenge exists?

Dr Valderrama : And also because two-thirds of our surface are restricted areas. We have very strong pressure to provide new alternatives for development and company development and keeping our areas protected. We have forest and we have almost all kinds of weather. It is in a very tiny state, so our goal is to get true sustainable development.

Senator BACK: And you mention in your letter to the chair that the creation of this innovation, science and technology fund between Australia and Mexico would be directed at scientific and technological work, but you also mentioned the advantages of bilateral, diplomatic and mutual trade relations. From your state government's point of view, could you give us an understanding of how you think it would be likely to actually enhance mutual trade and diplomatic relations?

Dr Valderrama : Regarding diplomatic relationships, it would open the field to persons with technical expertise, like engineers, to make their decisions. Right now there are not always the best educated people to take technical decisions, and we think that having a second level of understanding, precisely at the local level, would influence our knowledge and abilities. On the other hand, trade is now somehow diluted. It is no longer based on big corporations, so we want to improve trade by smaller companies from both Australia and our state who are state of the art but do not have these strong commercialisation networks.

Senator BACK: In Australia we have a well-developed education sector, particularly with regard to the vocational education and training sector, including English as a second language, because we welcome so many people from so many different countries that do not have English as their first language. Is there some scope for Australia to work with your education authorities in the state of Morelos in the vocational education sector?

Dr Valderrama : Absolutely. We are also in the middle of a lot of structural reforms, and one of these is in educational programs. Now local universities have more freedom to change their educational programs, so we think that the team that is promoting the initiative has enough experience to identify the opportunities in this area, and we are absolutely willing to share experiences.

CHAIR: Are there any state-to-state relationships? I was not quite clear whether you said you had a state-to-state relationship or not. Did you say that was between the state of Mexico to the state of Australia, or that it was an opportunity?

Dr Valderrama : Sorry I did not follow. Could you please repeat?

CHAIR: Does the state of Morelos have any particular relationship specifically with any Australian state, such as South Australia, Victoria or New South Wales? Or is it more on a nation-to-nation basis?

Dr Valderrama : Nowadays we have a formal relationship with the Australian synchrotron, because we are willing to have a Mexican synchrotron.

Senator BACK: Yes.

Dr Valderrama : Also I have been visiting a few universities in the area of Melbourne.

CHAIR: What is your view about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Is that an area of unbounded opportunity, or are there some concerns in Mexico about the TPP?

Dr Valderrama : As you may know we have not already received the conditions of the agreement here in Mexico, so it is somewhat adventurous to have a position. However, I think that any opportunity is good, and that we will have to open a new front diplomatically and also technically and scientifically. We need partners.

CHAIR: In terms of this inquiry, if the Trans-Pacific Partnership is to come to fruition in a reasonably short space of time will our opportunity to advance the case of better trade and exposure between Mexico and Australia be enhanced? Is that your view?

Dr Valderrama : Yes. I think so.

CHAIR: Are there are no threats in that opportunity?

Dr Valderrama : Sorry, I missed that. There is some noise in the line.

CHAIR: The Trans-Pacific Partnership covers an enormous amount of trade. I have read that Vietnam particularly would be a great winner out of this, as would Japan. What does Mexico get out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Dr Valderrama : As I told you, we have not been informed about the contents of the document. It is still under revision here in Mexico, so we do not know the possible alternatives. However, in general terms it is a very positive agreement.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your evidence and contribution here today. I give our apologies about the difficulties with communication.

Dr Valderrama : I apologise also. It is very noisy here, but thank you very much for the opportunity to give my support to the initiative.

Senator BACK: Buenos noches.

CHAIR: We will now take a short break.