Mark wrote the below piece which featured in yesterday’s City AM following his recent visit to Australia and New Zealand on behalf of the Government. You can find the piece on City AM’s here.
I have recently returned from a whistle-stop tour of Australia and New Zealand, with the aim of deepening policy engagement with the UK’s most obvious partners in the southern Hemisphere.
I visited Auckland, Whangarei, and Wellington in New Zealand, and then travelled onwards to Sydney, Canberra, and Perth in Australia. While there, I witnessed some of the great opportunities on offer to UK business. The region, despite (or maybe because of) the constant banter about the Ashes and the recent British Lions tour, felt much closer to home than the day-long flight would suggest.
I was delighted to find UK businesses flourishing, along with a real sense of optimism for the future, and for improving on UK exports to the region, which already total almost £10bn.
The opportunities for investment in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s largest cities, are well known. I was thrilled to hear of a collaboration between Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens and London’s Kew Gardens on a pioneering network of global seed banks. I also learned about aspirations for a regional fintech co-operative to promote links between startups in Sydney and those in London.
In New Zealand, Auckland is booming. It has quickly transformed into a major city, having experienced high population growth fuelled by immigration from the Pacific Island states and Asia, in particular India and China.
To accommodate this rapid economic growth, Auckland is prioritising infrastructure, and UK businesses are perfectly placed to support these advancements. As I said to the mayor of Auckland, British businesses already have a wealth of experience in developing new transport networks such as HS2 and Crossrail.
However, there is more to these two great allies than their respective economic powerhouses.
Our high commissioner to Australia, Menna Rawlings, spends a major part of her time flying to every corner of the country in support of British interests – from the remote Western Australian sheep station of Boolardy, the future home of the amazing Square Kilometre Array radio telescope and a major multi-country project headquartered at the Jodrell Bank Observatory (which is also part of University of Manchester), to the eastern border and the Great Barrier Reef, with its unique biodiversity, stunning tropical scenery, and cutting-edge marine science.
Research and education links are at the heart of our relationship with Australia – British universities have more than 500 agreements with institutions across the country, and over 6,000 co-publications are produced annually.
My travels across the breadth of both countries helped me make the case for British business. In New Zealand’s city of Whangarei, we held detailed discussions about the potential for moving the port of Auckland to Whangarei, and upgrading the road infrastructure to support closer links between the two cities. The plans were bold, but realistic. UK expertise stands well placed to support these efforts.
I rounded off the trip by welcoming HMS Sutherland to Perth, the most remote city of its size anywhere in the world, as part of the ship’s wider visit to the Indo-Pacific, and in support of UK defence engagement and procurement at a time when Australia is looking to upgrade its own naval hardware.
Throughout the trip, I was consistently impressed by the dynamism and the opportunities provided by the region for British businesses. As we move towards leaving the EU, it is of increasing importance that we look beyond Europe and the US to our historic partners in the southern hemisphere.
Finally, for those tempted to make the trip down under, I have some good news. As of next week Qantas will launch a direct 17 hour flight to Perth. This friendly Western Australian city stands as an ideal gateway to a continent of opportunity that stands to play an important part in the UK’s post-Brexit strategy.