SYDNEY: Countries must “embrace free trade and not retreat from it”, and they must do so on the basis of “strong and transparent rules, fair and open competition, and non-discriminatory legislation”, said Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Friday (Mar 16).
“Open markets, together with democracy, have been two of the most powerful forces in human history, and they have led to worldwide growth and prosperity,” said Mr Turnbull, giving the assurance that Australia will continue to work with its closest neighbours in the region.
“You don’t grow stronger by closing the door to other markets. Protectionism is a dead-end. It is not a ladder to get you out of the low-growth trap - it’s a shovel to dig it much deeper,” added Mr Turnbull.
Mr Turnbull could be alluding to US President Donald Trump’s controversial move to impose a 25 per cent tariff on steel imports and a 10 per cent tariff on aluminium, which could potentially affect Australia.
He described the free trade agreement inked with ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand (AANZFTA) as a “demonstration to the world of what can be done” by sharing ideas, expertise and new technologies for mutual benefit.
On the note of forging closer ties with ASEAN, Mr Turnbull announced that Australia will be working with the regional grouping to develop digital-trade standards, particularly for SMEs, in this age of technological advancements.
“Nowhere is the potential for digital trade greater than in our region,” said Mr Turnbull, who cited Google estimates of almost 4 million new users from Southeast Asia coming online every month, making it the fastest-growing Internet market in the world.
But he noted that the scale and pace in which things are changing is putting “enormous pressure” on existing regulations.
The ASEAN-Australia Digital Trade Standards joint initiative provides both sides with a consistent framework to develop, adopt and use international standards to promote digital trade, as well as support inclusive economic growth in the region.
“It will show the world yet again what can be achieved when nations work together,” Mr Turnbull added.