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Australia's bilateral relations with France: speech to the Gala Centenary Dinner of the French-Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sydney 5 December 1998

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Australia's Bilateral Relations with France

Speech by the Hon Tim Fischer MP, Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the National Party & Minister for Trade 

to the Gala Centenary Dinner of the French-Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Sydney 5 December 1998

(Check Against Delivery)

Mr Girault, President of the French-Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Your Excellencies Ambassadors Girard and Tordjman, the Honourable Frank Sartor, Lord Mayor of Sydney, other distinguished guests, ladies and g entlemen.

I am very pleased to be able to celebrate the Chamber's centenary with you tonight. The very fact that we are marking your 100th anniversary underscores the strength and enduring nature of the Australian-French bilateral relationship.

Our two countries have a distinguished record of cooperation in both peace and war throughout this century. I was personally reminded of this not long ago on a commemorative mission to the Somme region of France. The shared sacrifice of Australian and French soldiers on the battlefields of Europe will always be an experience that unites us.

A Diverse Relationship

Modern Australian-French relations are increasingly diverse. Trade and investment remain at the core of the relationship, but regional and global cooperation on a range of issues and strong people-to-people links have made the ties between us stronger.

In particular, in the South Pacific, an impressive new pattern of cooperation has been developed covering political and economic matters, development assistance and disaster relief.

Our cooperative activities in Antarctica are legendary, and in the Southern Ocean we are currently exploring further joint measures for policing illegal fishing.

Making travel between Australia and France easier has also been an important recent breakthrough. Our reciprocal entry agreement together with Qantas's new direct air services between Sydney and Paris are key developments which I believe will lead to stronger commercial ties and encourage expanded tourism. On our side, we are aiming to achieve a 9% increase in the growth of visitor arrivals from France next year. I am confident that government and business in both countries want to see more developments like these which help to strengthen the bilateral relationship further.

Commercial Relations

I am very pleased to be able to report that the commercial relationship is in great shape. There has been terrific progress on the trade and investment fronts, although there is clearly enormous further potential for growth. Two-way merchandise trade amounts to almost $3 billion a year, and while French exports to Australia are particularly strong our own manufacturers are continuing to perform well.

Australian exports to France are much more diverse than they used to be. They include new and exciting products like medical diagnostic and surgical equipment, precision optical instruments, pharmaceutical products and automotive parts valued at many millions of dollars.

Reflecting a worldwide trend, Australian wine is now finding a market in France. In volume terms, France is now our 14th largest table wine market with exports of bottled red wine up 130% in the 12 months to October this year and a 67% increase in bottled white wine exports. It is a similar picture across the European Union, North America and North East Asia where Australian wine sales are up by 15%. In fact Australia's overall wine exports to the world were valued at $850 million in 1997/98 and are forecast to pass the $1 billion mark by the year 2000.

Export successes like this have been achieved in difficult circumstances in the Asia-Pacific region which traditionally takes more than half our exports. Economically it has not been an easy time in the region, though fortunately the Australian economy has been holding up extremely well as evidenced by the national accounts figures released earlier this week showing five per cent GDP growth.

The solid performance of our own economy is helping Australian businesses to perform well in the face of the uncertain international trading environment. Our exporters have achieved substantial growth through diversifying their pattern of exports. They have done particularly well in Europe and the United States. In 1997-98, Australia's exports of goods and services reached the record level of $114 billion, an increase of more than 8% over 1996-97. And despite the difficulties in Asia, our exports are holding up well so far this year and have in fact risen by three per cent in the ten months to October compared with the same period last year.

Strong investment relationship

On the investment front, France is the fourth largest EU investor in Australia after the UK, Germany and the Benelux. Total French investment is almost $6 billion with direct investment trebling over the past six years. This is concentrated in Australian wine and food; space technology; water and waste treatment; tollgate technology and military and civilian electronics as well as air traffic control systems. On the horizon, of course, is the joint project to build and operate a very high-speed train service between Sydney and Canberra.

Australian direct investment in France over the past six years has quadrupled, but off a much smaller base. So there is wide scope for expanding Australian investment in France.

France has a significant business presence in Australia. Over 200 affiliates of French companies operate here and between them they employ a sizeable workforce - I have been told approximately 40,000 people. French companies are represented in all sectors, from electronics to mining and construction, from hotel chains to insurance.

As many of you have found, Australia is a very attractive place for doing business with the Asia-Pacific region. The number of French companies which have made Australia their regional headquarters has almost doubled to fourteen over the past two years. But it is still low both in absolute terms and compared with other European countries.

I believe many more French companies could take advantage of the opportunities that Australia has to offer. We measure up extremely well against the key advantages that investors want: a very robust economic and political base, educated, skilled workforce, a large and sophisticated domestic market, our strategic location close to Asia-Pacific markets, first class infrastructure services, a world class research and development base, and relatively liberal investment and ownership rules.


The Chamber can be proud of the role it has played in facilitating our healthy commercial relationship. It occupies an important place in Australia's corporate life by virtue of the valuable contribution that members consistently make to the Australian economy.

I would like to congratulate the Chamber for its 100th anniversary and for the splendid work that you are doi ng in bringing our respective business communities closer together. I encourage your continued efforts, in cooperation with government and business in Australia and France, to help build a more dynamic bilateral relationship in the years ahead.