(Australian Associated Press)
Australia should maintain its trading relationship with China while helping small businesses broaden the nation’s exports, a parliamentary inquiry has been told.
ECA Edge executive director Arnold Jorge said Australia lacks a diverse export portfolio, with most products going to China.
Australia’s exports could be classified as “rocks and crops”, he added.
Mr Jorge, who heads the Export Council of Australia initiative, said the coronavirus pandemic showed the need to diversify and manage risks in order to reduce volatility.
“If we are to see any meaningful change to Australia’s export profile, we believe it will have to be through the efforts of SME exporters and this will have positive spill-overs to the broad economy,” he said on Wednesday.
“At this particularly challenging time, entrepreneurship, start-ups and small business growth will be crucial to building livelihoods and creating jobs.”
He urged the government to broaden any extension to the wage subsidy program JobKeeper to include manufacturing and professional services exporters.
Small and medium enterprises should get more support to help reduce the costs of finding new markets and supply chains, Mr Jorge said.
He told the inquiry that diversifying exports should occur while maintaining the trading relationship with China.
“We’re not suggesting to abandon our existing partnerships.”
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Bryan Clarke says the nation must have a broad range of export industries so that when one ends, others remain.
He’s concerned about the impact climate change will have on Australia’s minerals industry.
Australia China Business Council president David Olsson reiterated the need to maintain relations with China while diversifying.
He assured parliamentarians the organisation wasn’t pro-China and acted in Australia’s best interests.
Beijing has targeted Australian barley farmers and beef producers after Prime Minister Scott Morrison led international calls for an independent coronavirus inquiry.
Australian Investment Council head of policy and research Brendon Harper says there should be more focus on helping start-ups succeed, STEM skills and innovation.
“It’s important that government policy and our national outlook are supportive both of traditional industries and the industries that will drive economic growth and employment in the future,” he told the inquiry.