Australia's Growing Engagement with Latin America

Address to the Council on Australia Latin America Relations(COALAR) Bicentennial Dinner, Parliament House, Canberra by Dennis Richardson, Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, on 30 August 2010

Tonight we celebrate the bicentennial of independence of Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela>

The events which shaped Latin America 200 years ago, and which gave rise to the Independence we celebrate tonight, continue to have relevance today and continue to resonate world wide.

COALAR

Tonight's dinner is in keeping with COALAR's tradition of building networks and engaging stakeholders.

When COALAR was established in 2001, it was clear Australia's relations with Latin America had great untapped potential.

And for almost a decade now, COALAR has been at the forefront of efforts to realise that potential.

Underpinning COALAR's work is an assessment that the region is becoming more important for our national interests.

People-to-people links

Australia is home to over 86,000 people in the vibrant Latin American and Caribbean communities. They make singular contributions to Australian society and economic well-being Education links are particularly important.

Ties between Australian and Latin American academic institutions, are deepening including through exchanges and collaborative research programs.

Latin America is one of the fastest growing sources of foreign students in Australia in 2009, Latin American student enrolments surpassed 33,000.

They make a valuable contribution to campus life while they are studying in Australia and when they return to their home countries they take with them a deeper understanding of Australia and the importance of Australia - Latin America relations.With more direct air links, and more awareness of our regions, tourism flows have almost doubled over the last five years, again off a very low base last year, we hosted around 67,000 visitors from the region, and over 81,000 Australians travelled there.

We expect thousands of Australians will want to travel to Latin America when Brazil hosts the Football World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016. And think of the travel the other way when we host the 2022 World Cup!

Business ties

On the business front, Australian companies have been involved in the region for a very long time.

Investment has led the way, with Australian companies investing in the region's minerals and resources sectors especially BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

Australian companies today are active and successful across an increasingly broad range of sectors.

I'm talking about prominent Australian companies that are leaders in their fields including Orica, Pacific Hydro, Nufarm, Macquarie Bank and QBE.

I'm also referring to many small and medium-sized Australian companies including service suppliers and technology-driven exporters.

Two-way merchandise trade figures tell a story of steady success. The GFC notwithstanding, trade has grown by more than 12 per cent annually over the past ten years.

Two-way merchandise trade reached A$6.3 billion in 2009-2010.

Government links

As Latin America's economic strength grows, so too does its global influence.

Australia is committed to deepen engagement with a more influential Latin America.

We already work closely together in a range of multilateral and regional groupings.

In the United Nations, for example, we cooperate on issues such as climate change, disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, human rights and UN reform.

In the G20 we are working closely with Brazil, Mexico and Argentina on global financial reforms.

Nine of the 19 Cairns Group countries are Latin American - so important in getting a successful outcome to Doha.

We also share a strong commitment to working together in regional institutions that strengthen ties across the Pacific including in APEC and the Forum for East Asia Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC).

Australia enjoys strong and productive relationships with the individual countries of Latin America and we have stepped up our bilateral engagement.

We've had an increased number of two-way high-level visits in the past two years, including Ministerial visits.

We've committed to increased political and economic cooperation and exchanges.

We are working with Latin American partners on initiatives that support our growing business interests the Australia-Chile FTA, which came into force in 2009, is a case in point.

We are also negotiating with Peru, Chile, the US and other countries on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

We've expanded cooperation in a variety of fields including education, mining, agriculture, and science and technology.

That is why we are strengthening our diplomatic presence on the ground in Latin America.

In September we will re-open our Embassy in Lima, Peru.

We also welcome the steps by Latin American countries to increase their representation in Australia.

Conclusion

The Council on Australia Latin America Relations deserves our thanks for organising and hosting this dinner.

As David has already mentioned, this year marks a changing of the COALAR guard.

So I want to take this opportunity to recognise Bernard Wheelahan, José Blanco, and the other departing board members.

Your collective energy and strategic vision have shaped COALAR's agenda for almost a decade.

We thank you for your contributions, which have been outstanding.

I also want to congratulate the four new members of the COALAR executive committee including David, who is taking over from Bernard as COALAR Chair.

All of you are joining a distinguished board whose members share your passion and commitment.

DFAT looks forward to working with you in taking forward COALAR's ambitious agenda.

Thank you.