Baillieu seeks a Chinese fortune

As Australia's share of non-resources exports to China declines, with other Asian nations taking share, Victoria is conducting the country's largest ever trade mission into the heart of Beijing.

"No moats, no walls, no doors; we will do whatever it takes to be here.”

That was Ted Baillieu’s declaration deep in the heart of Beijing’s Forbidden City, a place with a long history of rebuffing foreign advances.

The Victorian premier has a brought a veritable army with him in his bid to woo the Middle Kingdom, on this the largest ever trade mission from Australia to China. There are 600 people, representing 400 Victorian businesses on this trip, many here for the first time.

It is appropriate the mission began here at this 250 acre maze of palaces on Sunday. Speaking of the enormous logistical and political effort it took to organise this trip, one of the premier’s advisers quipped that in the same way palace courtiers had to inch their way toward the emperor in ancient times, so too did foreign delegations in their attempts to court China’s politburo.

But there is a real opportunity that the Victorian government perceives here. Chinese planners desire Australian agricultural products (especially dairy), our universities and our knowledge in R&D.

So, perhaps unusually, they are opening the door for Victorian companies and the government has rightly pounced on the opportunity to fit as many other businesses through that door as it can.

The mission comes as to two recent reports – one from AsiaLink and another from Boston Consulting Group – suggest we are failing to capitalise on the enormous growth of China and Asia as a whole.

While China accounts for 40 per cent of our resource exports, our share of the non-resource sector has been declining. Other Asian nations are beginning to steal market share from us and our strengths lie predominantly in a relatively small number of areas: agribusiness, education and pharmaceuticals.

According to BCG, if Australia were to arrest that decline, or put some real effort into growing our share of non-resource exports, then we could add $10 billion to $30 billion in annual revenue. That could mean as much $125 billion in extra income over the next decade.

Ted Baillieu believes that the Victorian government has put more effort into China than any other state.

The way he sees it, if Victoria is to make the most of the Asian Century, then we have to deepen relationships across all facets. This is why he spent Sunday on cultural ties, including signing a deal to exhibit artifacts from China’s Imperial Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria. "You can’t just come here and knock on the door”, he said "you build it in every sphere.”

"To have an effective relationship with China, it needs to be long term, it needs to be cultural, it needs to be personal, it needs to be government-to-government and it needs to be face-to-face.”

Victoria is undertaking an enormous marketing and branding exercise here in China. That makes sense for any business in a growth market and it makes doubly as much sense here.

Jackson Hewett is travelling on the Victorian Trade Mission with the support of the Victorian Employers' Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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