Brumby backs call for Asia focus

James Riley
Editorial Director

Former Victorian Premier and current Australian China Business Council (ACBC) national president John Brumby has backed Labor calls for a new plan for economic engagement with Asia.

Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen last week said Australia needed a “step-change in our economic relationship with Asia” and that while Asian economies had changed, Australia’s engagement with the region had for too long been “in cruise control.”

Mr Brumby, who is also on the local board of China-based communications giant Huawei, welcomed Mr Bowen’s emphasis on the importance of Australia’s largest trading partner – China.

John Brumby: It’s time to reset the economic relationship with Asia neighbours

“ACBC has long insisted that the return of China to a position of economic pre-eminence in the world is the defining geopolitical shift of the late 20th and early 21st centuries,” Mr Brumby said.

“It is the single most important global factor behind Australia’s strong economic performance over the last 26 years,” the period in which Australia has set a world record for the longest period of unbroken economic growth, he said.

Mr Brumby said in a statement that the ACBC has previously warned that as China’s growth profile changes, Australia needed to also change its relationship with China – shifting from transactional economic ties based on “rocks and crops” exports and “move services trade, more partnerships and more investment in both directions.”

Under Mr Bowen’s FutureAsia strategy, Labor puts forward a series of proposed initiatives, including moves to improve Asia literacy on boards, a plan to leverage the large numbers of Asians diaspora living in Australia – as well as Australian living across Asia – and to maintain an open mind to China’s giant Belt and Road Initiative.

Mr Brumby said the BRI initiative in particular was the most ambitious infrastructure-building plans ever in the region, and that “it is important for Australia to keep engaging constructively with it.”

“I also welcome FutureAsia’s acknowledgement of the value of multilateralism at a time when the world is seeing a rise in populism and protectionism,” Mr Brumby has said.

“Chris Bowen notes that ‘with the failure of the TPP, both APEC and ASEAN would have greater, not lesser importance,’ and he calls the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) ‘the single major trade negotiation opportunity underway anywhere in the world’,” Mr Brumby said.

FutureAsia is about deeper engagement to deal with the economic challenges and opportunities of our region. ACBC welcomes this effort, and we look forward to seeing further details in time.

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