Australia Prioritises Gulf Free Trade Agreements

Minister wants to ‘turbo charge’ investment opportunities on back of abundant air links



Securing free trade agreements with Gulf states is now Australia’s prime priority beyond Asia.

That was the key message from Andrew Robb, Minister for Trade and Investment, during a press briefing at Conrad Dubai last night. “We’ve been working with South Korea, Japan and China on free trade and this is my fourth priority,” he said.

Free Trade Agreement negotiations with GCC states started in July 2007 but then stalled. Now with the Emirates-Qantas and Etihad-Virgin Australia partnerships taking off, providing up to 140 flights a week in and out of the UAE, Australia sees new commercial opportunities.

“We want the process to restart, we’re very keen for the process to move quickly,” said Robb. “The air links are the big game changer – I’d like to turbo charge the trade opportunities.”

Despite the plentiful capacity, Qantas recorded AD$252 million ($226 million) half-year losses in the six months to December and will cut 5,000 jobs (click here). Lifting the cap on Qantas’ ownership would make a big difference, believes Robb.

“It would allow, like Virgin, to have other major airlines to be part of their group and introduce a lot more capital. We haven’t got a majority in the Senate – we’ve got to work through it.

“As a Minister for Trade and Investment, I want to see more effective carriers from more countries, it’s seats arriving that’s driving so much opportunity. The airport capacity is there to take more flights – 140 from the Gulf is fairly flash but we’re anticipating it growing.”

The Minister is travelling across the region in a bid to court investment opportunities. After the ‘Australia Unlimited MENA’ exhibition in Dubai yesterday, he will meet officials in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Kuwait, Muscat and Rabat.

The air links provide Australia with the chance to increase its 40,000 visitor numbers from the Gulf, and open the door to wider investment synergies.

Investment Corporation of Dubai recently bought a “significant” stake in Kerzner International Holdings and one of the assets in its portfolio is the Hayman Islands in the Whitsundays.

The island is due to be relaunched as a One&Only resort, a brand that is well-known in Dubai with its two properties, and Kerzner International manages Atlantis The Palm.

Gulf citizens can now obtain multi-entry visas to Australia, valid for two years, when they apply online. Applications take up to two days to process.