Michael Sainsbury
June 28, 2016

Brexit good and bad for Aussie tech

Trade

Brexit good and bad for Aussie tech

London Calling: Has anyone seen my trade bloc?

While the UK’s decision to vote against its own economic self-interest to exit the European Union has buffeted Australian markets, recent decisions in the trade and technology sphere leave Australia better placed than it could have been if the Anglophile Tony Abbott had been left in charge.

In particular, the decision by the Turnbull Government to locate the European version of the five taxpayer-funded export ‘Landing Pads’ for small Australian tech companies in Berlin is suddenly looking awfully far-sighted.

The obvious choice was London, until last Thursday arguably the undisputed centre for global finance and a self-styled hub for the Fintech sector, a niche market that the Government has named ahead of all others for Australia as a priority industry.

Now London’s position as the fulcrum of the financial world – challenged only by New York – is clearly under threat.

It is also worth noting that despite the occasional push internally and externally, Austrade has continued to base its Western European office in Frankfurt, rather than London.

No one is quite sure why Berlin, where Australia presently does not have a trade representative, got the guernsey over London – or indeed Frankfurt.

But one senses the not so invisible hand of the Prime Minister (and perhaps even Lucy Turnbull) behind this. Insiders say that one of the key differences between the Turnbull’s and Tony Abbott is the focus on continental Europe over the now free-floating Old Dart.

Or perhaps it was a bit of a ‘thanks for coming,’ a very much cheaper second prize for the Germans after they lost the squillion dollar submarine project

Mrs Turnbull is on the board of the European Australian Business Council, now chaired by a Liberal mate, the former New South Wales Premier Nick Greiner. The president of the German-Australian Chamber of Commerce is one of Australia’s most powerful businessmen, BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie.

Or perhaps it’s just all a happy coincidence, so many things in Australian business are. Not to mention a nice dodging of the Brexit bullet.

But despite the built-in advantages that Australia has with a solid foot firmly in both camps – the new 26 member EU and this country’s former colonial master and long time military ally the United Kingdom (anchored by Mother England) – there are multiple challenges ahead.

The first is the Free Trade Agreement that the government has begun early negotiations on. That will now have to be put on hold somewhat while the UK decides the timing of its Brexit (assuming this will even happen).

Following that, it will be double the work for negotiators, adding cost for Australian taxpayers as bureaucrats and politicians fly around the place, at the front of the plane to build-out the deals.

Inward investment arrangements will also have to be clarified. Both sides will doubtless want the same raised levels of non scrutiny our biggest trade and investment partners China, the US and Japan.

Arguably Europe, still a major economic powerhouse without the UK would deserve it, the UK would perhaps only get this status out of sense of shared history, as its shrinks in global importance.

Meanwhile, Austrade needs to gets it’s collective butt into gear and sort out arrangements for the Berlin landing pad, InnovationAus.com most immediate concern. Things are moving quickly elsewhere with San Francisco in place, Tel Aviv about to come on line; Singapore and Shanghai are targeting the next three months.

Berlin won’t want to get left behind. Like the UK.

InnovationAus.com will be in both London and Berlin in late July; any Australian technology companies or industry groups with anything in either city to show or tell, please contact the author on sainsburychina@gmail.com

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