Perth will host a German-Australian business conference at the weekend, with more than a thousand participants looking to explore the fifth continent as a location to do business with a booming region.
Under the auspices of German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Asia-Pacific Committee of German Business will hold its first regional conference in Australia from November 3-5. On the occasion of the event to be held in the Western Australian capital of Perth, DW has been speaking with Kristian Wolf, the chief executive of the German-Australian Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
DW: Asia-Pacific conferences organized by the German committee are regular events. For the first time now, a conference will be held with a clear focus on Australia. What is the aim of the Perth conference?
Kristian Wolf: First of all, it's about the good bilateral relations Australia and Germany have maintained for the past few years. It's important for us not to waste any time in between regular Asia-Pacific Conferences (APCs). That is why we and our Australian partners, including the government, decided in the aftermath of the previous conference in Hong Kong: Now is the right time for a regional conference to advance German-Australian relations further. We saw major improvements during a visit by Chancellor Angela Merkel to the G20 summit in Brisbane in 2014.
An indication of the importance of the conference is the presence of the German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier…
Very much so, we cannot complain about an absence of political leaders from both countries. We are, of course, glad that the Federal President is making this long journey together with us, which will also take him to New Zealand later on. We will also welcome the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to the conference, as well as a number of ministers from Asia-Pacific countries and more than 1,000 participants.
The event is billed as the most important bilateral German-Australian business conference so far. How important are German businesses' ties to their Australian partners?
They are important, but they could even gain in importance. We are fully convinced that there is room to come closer together. There is a growing potential for increasing exports and investment, but also to strength cooperation in research and development. We want to highlight and discuss this untapped potential as a first step and then chart ways how to bridge the vast geographic distances better.
From a German point of view, Australia is seen as becoming a kind of a hub for German export businesses, to serve as a springboard to the whole Asia-Pacific region. Could you enlarge a bit on those plans?
In a first phase, we need to finish negotiations for a bilateral EU-Australia free trade agreement, which is an important step toward tightening our business ties. Then I think it's important notably for German businesses to understand how deeply Australia is integrated economically in the Asia-Pacific region. The image German business leaders have about Australia is that of mainly a tourist country. This is why we as a business chamber have to change those stereotypes, and raise awareness among our members that Australia is, indeed, an important business location as well as strongly linked to the Asia-Pacific economies. This conference will have achieved much if it's able get the message across to the German participants that Australia is not only a wonderful holiday destination but also a key location for doing business with the whole region.
Looking at the opposite direction for a moment: What do Australian businesses hope to achieve? What are the opportunities for them regarding business with Germany, in particular, and the European Union as a whole?
I think the Australians must be careful not to become too dependent on the markets at their threshold, notably on China. They may have to diversify their economy by starting to look at Europe as a crucial partner for trade and investment. I believe that as much as we Europeans tend to overlook the potential of Australia as a key regional player, the Australians find it difficult to look beyond their home region and toward other world regions. But here I have to admit that Australian businesses invest four times more in Germany than vice versa.
There will be a number of issues discussed at the conference, ranging from the digitization of industry right through to resource security. But the most important seems to be the free flow of goods and services - a concept which has come under political pressure from protectionists all over the world. What are the views of the German chamber and their Australian partners?
That's a highly important issue for us, but one on which we share agreement with our partners. Both sides believe that the well-being of our societies can only be maintained and developed further through strengthening global trade based on the free flow of goods and services. For an export nation like Germany, this is essential, but it's also crucially important for Australia. On this issue, we speak with one voice, as it were.
The interview was conducted by Henrik Böhme - head of DW Business Online