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Queensland steps up Pacific engagement

Speaking in Port Moresby, the Hon. Cameron Dick, Treasurer and Minister for Trade and Investment has declared that “Queensland is Australia’s Pacific State”. Welcome words and ones that will hopefully provide a launching pad for increased and improved engagement between the sunshine state and Pacific countries.

The flagship announcement from the Palaszczuk government is the upcoming appointment of a Pacific Trade Commissioner within Trade and Investment Queensland. This is something of a turnaround and the role will operate somewhat differently from other Commissioners that operate elsewhere in the world. It reflects a recommendation made in Griffith Asia Institute’s submission to a recent Joint Standing Committee on Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade Inquiry into Australia activating trade and investment with Pacific island countries (submission No. 34).

This willingness to think differently when it comes to the Pacific is to be welcomed. The focus on trade is an excellent starting point. When it comes to building networks and relationships in the near neighbourhood the key to success for Queensland’s Pacific Trade Commissioner will be facilitating buying from the Pacific as well as selling to. In research commissioned by the Whitlam Institute that was published in 2020, one of the key findings was that Pacific neighbours wanted more and better access to Australia for their products.

Pacific Trade Opportunities
"By creating opportunities and incentives to build Pacific goods and services into Queensland-based value chains this new facility can deliver opportunity, livelihood enhancement, and profitability across multiple sectors. The nature of longstanding economic, cultural and people-to-people relationships provides the foundation of the story that supports “Brand Queensland” in some targeted and potentially lucrative areas."

Central to the success of this initiative will be facilitating business-to-business (B2B) relationships. Again, the ability to think and work creatively will give Queensland a unique opportunity on which to capitalise. The fact is that there are already important and vibrant B2B relationships between Queensland and Pacific island countries. Many of them are based on family and kinship ties between members of the diaspora communities and their ‘home’ countries. It would benefit TIQ to invest in learning more about these relationships and how the new Trade Commissioner can support them. The knowledge and experience that these entrepreneurs have gained will be invaluable in understanding the opportunities and challenges for new entrants into the field. Most importantly, they have a highly developed understanding of the importance of relationships and cultural competences when it comes to doing business in the Pacific.

There are many opportunities to grow trade relationships between Queensland and countries in the region such as Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji. The diaspora communities in Queensland are a ready market for Pacific products, including foodstuffs, handicrafts, and niche products such as cocoa and kava. Brisbane and Cairns are both prime locations for a “Pacific Pavilion” to allow for Pacific products to be showcased and socialised within Queensland markets (and beyond). This is an opportunity for Queensland to be at the forefront of Australian engagement in this space. Unlike other countries – notably New Zealand, Indonesia and China – Australia does not provide any regular ‘expo’ event to promote Pacific products.

Looking ahead the 2032 Olympic Games to be held in Brisbane should be another focus for increased shared value between Queensland and the Pacific. Now is the time for those businesses who are seeking to contribute to this major event to be establishing the relationships they will need to incorporate high quality Pacific goods and services into their offerings. A particular niche to explore is that of the creative industries. Pacific artisans, artists and creators have skills and expertise to contribute that can only add greater value to what Queensland will offer to the world in 2032.

With trade as the launching pad, we can hope to see the Queensland government identify more and more opportunities to develop and grow relationships with the Pacific islands region. There are countless ways in which Queensland can and should be the site for shared learning, that draws on traditional knowledge and expertise of Indigenous Australians (with a particular space for Queenslanders from the Torres Strait Islands), Pacific diaspora communities, South Sea Islanders, and Pacific workers in Australia on temporary labour schemes along with professionals and practitioners from the near region. Think disaster preparedness, community resilience, food security, early childhood development, waste management … the list goes on. These are shared challenges as between Queensland and Pacific island countries. They provide opportunities to share knowledge of many types to develop new ways of working and growing.

The key to progressing Queensland’s position as Australia’s “Pacific state” is to focus on the concept of shared value. The Queensland government is uniquely placed to build on geographical, historical, economic, and cultural ties to work in ways that are not captured by the deficit lens that so often infects perceptions of the Pacific islands region. When it comes to building the Pacific state, the key to success lies just as much in the how as in the what.

Author

Dr Tess Newton CainDr Tess Newton Cain is a Senior Research Fellow and the Project Leader for the Griffith Asia Institute’s Pacific Hub. Within that role she assists with curation for the Pacific Outlook section of the Griffith Asia Insights blog.

Tess is a dual citizen of Vanuatu and the United Kingdom. She is a former Lecturer in Law at the University of the South Pacific. She has lived and worked in the Pacific islands region for almost 25 years, with most of that time spent living in Vanuatu.

Tess’ research interests focus on politics, policy and development in the Pacific islands region. She has provided research. strategic advice and policy support to national governments, regional organisations (including the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat) and development partners (including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the United Nations, and the governments of Australia and New Zealand).

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