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The New Silk Road on-line consultation process, RG Casey Building, Barton ACT, 11 February 1998: speech at the launch.

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Speech by the Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, The Hon Tim Fischer at the Launch of The New Silk Road On-line Consultation Process. RG Casey Building, Barton ACT, 11 February 1998.


Ladies and Gentlemen


I am very pleased to be h ere today to launch a process of electronic consultation with the Australian on-line community on what the government should be doing to promote trade through electronic commerce.


Over the last 12 months, my Department has been consulting with members of the Australian on-line community about the potential and pitfalls of electronic commerce.


Today's launch is in response to calls for that consultation process to be electronically enabled, which has now been done through my Department's internet site, to allow for a more efficient exchange of views between stakeholders.


Last September I released the publication "Putting Australia on the New Silk Road: The Role of Trade Policy in Advancing Electronic Commerce". My Department followed this with a series of round table discussions in state and territory capitals and some regional centres.


Members of the on-line community briefed my officials on major issues such as how, and to what extent, the internet is being incorporated into business strategies; the factors that inhibit and encourage business use of the internet; impacts of electronic commerce on employment; and ways in which the Commonwealth might promote international trade over the internet.


This information will help the Government in shaping our trade policy and trade promotion strategies.


You would all be aware of the potential of the internet as a tool for commerce.


There is no doubt that the internet will be a key tool in allowing Australian SME's to access new export markets. Through the internet, even the smallest companies now have access to an affluent market of 70 million consumers who spent over $5 billion on-line last year. Even by conservative estimates that figure is expected to grow to 150 million consumers spending in excess of $200 billion per annum by 2000. I want to make sure that Australian companies get their fair share of this new international trade.


Our preliminary assessment, based on the results of our consultations already carried out with business, is that Australia is well placed to benefit from internet commerce, particularly when it comes to exports of services. Our consultations with on-line traders over the last few months have also debunked the traditional view that small firms can not export.


Mick Denigan, who is here with me today and featured as a case study example in our New Silk Road report has shown that a micro-company with three employees, no power, telephone or water in a remote part of Australia can access new markets through the internet. Since putting his leathergoods business on the internet two years ago Mick has enjoyed a 700% increase in exports and now sells his products to over 12 countries.


Another company featured in our first New Silk Road report, Tower Software, is a further shining example of how Australian SME's can access new markets through the internet.


Tower's Managing Director, Mr Brand Hoff, who is here today, can also attest to the power of the internet in developing markets and servicing clients. Tower had developed software which utilises the internet to allow organisations to more efficiently manage records. Through the use of the internet, Tower is now exporting to over 30 countries and has enjoyed sustained growth in sales.


Perhaps the most startling fact to emerge from the consultation process to date is that there is such a substantial level of cross border internet trading going on today. This is despite the lack of firm international rules on internet commerce, meaning that contracts made over the internet are not really legally valid, a perception that intellectual property traded over the internet is largely unprotected, and that security and verification issues relating to payments over the internet have not yet been fully sorted out.


The objective of the Australian Government, in conjunction with state and territory governments, and other national governments at the international level, is to make substantial and rapid progress on these types of issues so that internet trading can take place without any inhibitors.


Understanding and responding strongly and positively to electronic commerce - and to the wider Information Revolution - is a challenge for every one of us if we want collectively to look forward to the rewards of economic growth - well paid and abundant j obs, and a good and sustainable quality of life.


I place a high priority on the success of the New Silk Road process, and I therefore put high store on eliciting stakeholder views on how to design a robust online trade strategy.


I hereby call for all parties with an interest in the internet and its development as a tool for international commerce to look at the site at and email your views.


You can add your views, download a copy of the first New Silk Road report, explore links to other trade policy related sites through the resource we have set up on the DFAT internet site. And of course, your views will be displayed for others to read and comment on.


We hope that the site will serve as a useful way of advancing debate within the on-line trading community on what Australia needs to do to set up its on-line trade strategy.