Tony Abbott, Former Prime Minister of Australia, on Australia’s deepening relationship with the Gulf states: Viewpoint

Tony Abbott, Former Prime Minister of Australia, on Australia’s deepening relationship with the Gulf states

Australia’s links with the Gulf states are close and getting closer. Australians and citizens of Gulf states are spending more and more time in each other’s countries, the security relationship is growing and business relationships are booming.

In 2014 Australia and the GCC traded $11.7bn in goods, an increase of 7.2% over 2013. Negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) with the GCC have been suspended since 2009. This is far too long when we know that an FTA is in the interests of all our countries. Our trade is complementary, our exports and imports are not in direct competition and we are all interested in long-term growth. For these reasons, I am hopeful that negotiations will resume soon.

The GCC is an important market for our agricultural and food exports, valued at $2.4bn in 2014. With an FTA, high-quality Australian goods would become more readily available at even more affordable prices in the GCC. World-class Australian service providers in health, education, engineering, construction and event management would be more accessible.

Australia is open for business. We welcome foreign investment that benefits the investor and is in line with our national interests and priorities. Investment from the Gulf states already exceeds $20bn in Australia. An FTA would allow this to increase even further. Australia has also embraced significant investment from Gulf sovereign wealth funds, including in infrastructure and tourism. For example, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority – through the Accor Group – is the largest owner of hotels in Australia. Australia’s Asset Recycling Initiative has opened up significant opportunities for stakeholders to invest in privatised brownfield assets. Sale proceeds will be re-invested in quality new infrastructure projects. This, in turn, leads to investment in Australia.

Our aviation industry is enhancing links between the people of our regions and improving service for consumers and trade. Around 150 direct, return flights by Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Qantas and Virgin operate between the Gulf and Australia each week. The airline industry has demonstrated phenomenal growth, benefitting all involved.

Close to 35,000 Australians call the Gulf states home. Additionally, 300,000 Australian tourists visit the UAE every year and there are 10,000 students from GCC countries enrolled in education institutions across Australia. The partnerships between Qantas and Emirates, and Etihad and Virgin Australia, will continue to bring our people closer together.

Our relationship also extends into the important issue of national security. Australian and Gulf leaders share the highest of priorities – to keep the people of our nations safe. What’s happening in Syria and Iraq threatens Australia and the wider Middle East region. Australia is strongly committed to working with the UAE and our other partners in the Gulf to counter violent extremism. Together we are strengthening the security of the Gulf through the military campaign to disrupt, degrade and ultimately defeat Daesh. Australia supports the initiative of the UAE, developed in partnership with the US and others at the Washington Summit in early 2015, to establish regional expertise in countering violent extremism (CVE). We hosted our own Regional CVE Summit in June 2015 to consider how governments, civil society and local communities can better challenge violent extremism.

My visit to the UAE in January 2015, similar to the many visits to the Gulf that senior Australian ministers have made in recent times, was very productive. The Australian government has since announced its intention to open a new embassy in Doha, which will add to our existing diplomatic representation in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Kuwait City. My government sees the fast and evolving relationship with the Gulf states as important and full of potential. We will continue to strengthen this partnership based on a foundation of friendship, history and common goals.

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The Report: Ras Al Khaimah 2015

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