Trade and Economic Ministers from Australia and New Zealand met in Sydney on 28 August at a special CER Ministerial Forum to mark 20 years of the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement (CER). The Australian delegation was led by the Minister for Trade, the Hon Mark Vaile, with his colleagues the Minister for Agriculture, the Hon Warren Truss, and the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, Senator the Hon Helen Coonan. The New Zealand delegation was led by the Minister for Trade Negotiations and Agriculture, the Hon Jim Sutton, with his colleagues Economic Development Minister, the Hon Jim Anderton, and Commerce Minister, the Hon Lianne Dalziel.
CER is a responsive and dynamic arrangement - its very success in developing a web of co-operation over the past 20 years presents us with issues and ideas through which the relationship may be further enhanced. The 20th anniversary commemoration gives us the opportunity both to reflect on the past success of the agreement and to look ahead to the agenda for the future.
We pay tribute also to the extraordinary foresight shown by the architects of the CER. The World Trade Organisation has described CER as “the world’s most comprehensive, effective and mutually compatible free trade agreement.” It is also one of the most successful examples of economic integration in the world.
CER has strengthened the economic relationship between Australia and New Zealand, thereby assisting both economies to better position themselves globally. By eliminating barriers and promoting free trade, it has doubled trade between us in real terms and created wealth and employment in both economies.
We are bound together not only by the importance to each other of our respective goods and services markets, but also by the depth of our labour market integration, value of cross investment, the integration of our banking and broader financial services markets, shared public and private institutions, integrated trans-Tasman companies, and the breadth of business and personal networks and daily interactions.
As we head further into the 21st century, we envisage stronger integration of our two economies. We have today exchanged letters formalizing the arrangement on “triangular taxation”, enabling recognition of each country’s imputation of tax credits in circumstances where they flow through a company in the other jurisdiction. We are also pleased to announce that we have achieved constructive progress on CER Rules of Origin, including agreement on some incremental improvements as well as a process to examine possible wider changes beneficial to businesses on both sides of the Tasman.
We have agreed that in the spirit of CER, our respective Customs Services work more closely to ensure that the CER Rules of Origin are administered in a uniform manner. To this end, they will, as necessary, convene a Joint Customs Committee, to ensure a harmonised approach, and have early exchanges on any draft legislation and policies impacting on the administration of the CER Rules of Origin, with the Joint Customs Committee acting to ensure that there is no divergence in the administration of the rules.
While trans-Tasman border protection standards are already high, international developments make it timely to consider what further might be done. We will therefore work on proposals to improve information sharing between our Customs Services. We will also examine the possibility of coordinated assistance to Pacific Island countries, targeted to enhance assurance over the security of trade originating from Pacific ports destined for Australia or New Zealand or through them to third countries.
The Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement is a powerful force for regulatory coordination and convergence. The costs for our exporters associated with the need to meet each other’s regulatory requirements have been removed. Professional people registered in one jurisdiction are also able to register in the other. The Arrangement is a cornerstone of our drive for a seamless trans-Tasman market.
We welcome the comprehensive preliminary findings by the Australian Productivity Commission on the operation of the Arrangement and the scope for its further development, and look forward to its final report in October. We are looking at the scope for new regulatory approaches to make it easier still for our exporters and professional people to provide services in each others’ markets. To this end, we are committed to ensuring that the Arrangement is supported by the continued development of joint Australian and New Zealand standards. We recognise the importance of joint standards to our business communities.
We are also pleased to note that legislation is now before both our parliaments on mutual recognition of aviation-related safety certification. This will be a major step forward in the integration of the trans-Tasman aviation market, significantly reducing the administrative burden on our airlines.
Cooperation is occurring between regulatory/enforcement bodies, including the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the New Zealand Securities Commission, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the New Zealand Commerce Commission, our Takeovers Panels and the Australian Accounting Standards Board and the New Zealand Accounting Standards Review Board.
Discussions on detailed proposals for mutual recognition of securities offerings are well advanced. The Governments have agreed to release a joint discussion paper by 30 November 2003 setting out detailed proposals for the mutual recognition regime. This is an important step in the direction of a more integrated trans-Tasman financial market. Our objective is to eliminate the requirement to comply with two sets of regulations and thereby enhance access to each other’s markets, while lowering the costs, for offers on both sides of the Tasman.
We are committed to reducing transaction costs for our businesses through the development of trans-Tasman accounting standards, including the prospect of establishing a single trans-Tasman standards-setting body. We have agreed to establish a joint working party to examine possible models. It is intended that the group will report to governments in early 2004 with a view to releasing a discussion document.
New Zealand and Australia are also moving closer together in the area of competition policy and law. The Australian Treasurer and the New Zealand Minister of Finance agreed earlier this year that Australia and New Zealand should explore ways to improve the integration of the countries’ competition regimes and to coordinate more closely on their development. We have today discussed a process for identifying immediate, medium-term and longer-term issues designed to lower business costs and increase the attractiveness of the trans-Tasman market for domestic and international business and investment. We received a proposal for the Australian and New Zealand Governments to take steps towards promoting greater trans-Tasman coordination and cooperation in telecommunications. We noted that this matter could be considered further when Australian and New Zealand telecommunications officials hold their annual meeting in November 2003.
We recognise that one of the key dynamics in the future development of our economic relationship will be increasing institutional integration. Shared institutions offer considerable scope for us to enjoy economies of scale and scope. They can provide a stronger platform to influence international developments and position Australia and New Zealand globally. We appreciate that they raise unique challenges of shared governance which require particularly innovative and cooperative commitment.
With rapid advances in therapeutic goods, we consider it essential to ensure that the standards that apply in Australia and New Zealand are of the highest order to ensure the health and safety of our peoples. Thus a major development that we hope to achieve this year is signature of a treaty to establish a joint therapeutic products agency between Australia and New Zealand.
Our two governments will continue to cooperate closely in leading our societies in innovative directions: in science and technology, in information and communications technology, in biotechnology and in other areas. We intend, through the further exchange of information about our growth and innovation policies, to enhance coordination on industry development.
Held in parallel with the Ministerial Forum was a trans-Tasman business dialogue with a focus on the biotechnology industry sector. The dialogue was valuable in identifying areas for further trans-Tasman collaboration, including shared infrastructural capabilities, regulatory harmonisation, access to capital and people, and cooperation in international marketing and business development. We also welcomed the valuable contribution of the Australia New Zealand Business Council (ANZBC) to our discussions.
CER is a benchmark for both countries in our approaches to other free trade agreement negotiations. We will continue to work closely together as CER partners in multilateral organisations like the WTO, the Cairns Group and OECD, in regional initiatives like AFTA-CER, and wherever we can build together on the strength of the CER base. We agree that the Cancún Ministerial Conference, now less than two weeks away, will be crucial to the successful and timely conclusion of the Doha Round. We stress that achieving an ambitious outcome on agriculture reform is the key to the entire Doha Round agenda. We look forward to continuing our close working relationship, particularly in the Cairns Group, during the critical days ahead.
We are two nations enjoying the benefits of a wide-ranging single market. As we enter the next twenty years of CER, we see this Agreement not only as a framework for the further development of trade in goods and services, but as a catalyst for the enhanced compatibility of our business and regulatory systems in a manner that will be to the mutual advantage of all Australians and New Zealanders.
28 August 2003