29 Jan

'Britain should take a lesson from Australia on trade' Matthew Lesh, The Times

This weekend marks 231 years since the arrival of Arthur Phillip’s First Fleet in what would become Australia. That experimental export of British traditions, customs and institutions to the other side of the planet was an unqualified success. But while Australia may be an offspring of Britain, she has grown up and has a thing or two to teach her mother.

Australia is not simply the lucky country, blessed with plentiful sun and natural resources: it takes more than luck to reach 26 consecutive years without a recession, a global record. In the 1980s, Australian politicians from both sides rejected what historian Paul Kelly called the Australian settlement: limited migration, protectionism, inflexible workplace relations, paternalistic social policies and dependence on foreign powers.

The new Aussie rules, created by the governments of Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard, lowered tariffs, removed subsidies, abolished quotas, increased migration, provided workplace flexibility, privatised industry, floated the dollar and deregulated financial markets.

Australia has had immense success on trade. Tariffs have been reduced from as high as 90 per cent in the 1980s to a maximum of 5 per cent today. Trade has grown from under AU$100 billion (£55 billion) to over AU$750 billion (£400 billion). There are free trade deals with countries such as Singapore, the United States, Japan, and China. You know, the global engines of growth. You’re right to be jealous.

Trade agreements are about more than just tariffs and subsidies. Australia recognises New Zealand’s doctors to be as good as their own, unlike Britain, which requires an additional conversion year to work in the NHS. To build the people-to-people links that are essential for trade, the Australia-US free trade agreement created the special E-3 visa category. This means it’s now easier for Australians to work in America than in Britain, and there are now more Aussies in New York than in London.

Britain has been obsessed with Europe; it’s time now to look up and see that there’s a big world out there waiting. Australia and Britain’s security services already work together. But trade should be tariff-free, regulations and qualifications mutually recognised, and people able to freely move between our countries.

So let’s throw a shrimp on the barbie this Australia Day, celebrate the Antipodean links and, as Britain sails on to the open ocean after Brexit, learn from Australia’s success story.

Matthew Lesh is head of research at the Adam Smith Institute and an adjunct fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs, Australia

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