WTO must step up on digital: Treasurer


Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

The World Trade Organisation must player a stronger role on issues of e-commerce and the digital economy, with Australia facing “significant challenges” as part of the transformation of the global economy, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.

Delivering the Australian Studies Centre Lecture at ANU on Tuesday, Mr Frydenberg flagged further reforms to help Australian companies export services globally, and train people to better prepare for the “digital technologies of the future”.

But he said the World Trade Organisation must be “reinvigorated with a more effective dispute setting mechanism and a broader remit to deal with e-commerce and the opportunities created by the digital economy”.

The Treasurer also wants the International Monetary Fund to change its governance structure to reflect the “greater role played by emerging economies”, especially in Asia.

“With these reforms, these important institutions will be even stronger and more relevant to the task before them,” Mr Frydenberg said.

With “significant challenges” emerging with shifts in the global economy, reforms will be needed to ensure Australia remains competitive, he said.

“It’s critical that we pursue reforms at home that retain our competitiveness, openness and fiscal discipline, and that globally we remain a strong advocate for a transparent and rules-based global economic system that has strong multilateral institutions,” he said.

There also needs to be a focus on ensuring the Australian workforce have the right skills for the jobs of the future.

“As the nature of work changes we need to train people in the services and digital technologies of the future. This has implications for our vocational training system and university sector,” Mr Frydenberg said.

Thanks to Australia’s proximity to Asia and strong services sector, there is an “immense” opportunity to grow exports in this area, he said.

“The tyranny of distance is not what it was. Services are following this path too. The apps on our phones demonstrate this. The first ridesharing app – Uber – came from the US. But we now have Ola from India, Didi from china and Bolt from Estonia,” he said.

“You can shop around for the best and more affordable ride, and indeed people swap notes on which service is working best for them at any given time.”
“As consumers we have more choice than ever before, in services as well as goods. As exporters, we have an opportunity to sell our products and know-how to more countries than ever before.”

“Services account for three quarters of our economy and four out of five Australian jobs, but they make up a much smaller proportion of our exports. Ensuring our legislative settings are right in the services sector is vital.”

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