PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is ranked 23rd out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s 2017 Doing Business Report (DB 2017), down a notch from its 22nd position last year.
At 23rd spot, Malaysia is ahead of countries such as Switzerland (31st), France (29th), Netherlands (28th), United Arab Emirates (26th), Japan (34th), Thailand (46th), China (78th) and India (130th), said Malaysia Productivity Corporation (MPC) director-general, Datuk Mohd Razali Hussain.
Malaysia is also ranked second in Asean in the report after Singapore and 7th in the Asia Pacific after New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia.
Mohd Razali told a media briefing this here yesterday to share the methodology and highlights of the DB 2017.
He said the report continues the ongoing process of introducing improvements involving 10 of the 11 DB indicator sets.
Based on the improved measurements, Malaysia’s 23rd placing was based on a Distance to Frontier (DTF) score of 78.11 in DB 2017.
This is in contrast to 22nd out of 189 economies in the DB 2016, with a DTF score of 78.18.
Under the old methodology, Malaysia was ranked 18th in the DB 2016.
Mohd Razali Hussain said the DB 2017 further refined the methodology this year with the “Paying Taxes” indicator expanded and gender dimension being added in three of the 11 indicators.
“The Paying Taxes indicator set has been expanded to cover the post filing processes (what happens after a firm pays taxes) such as tax refunds, tax audits and administrative tax appeals.
“A gender dimension has been included in four of the 11 indicator sets which sees Starting a Business, Registering Property and Enforcing Contracts presenting a gender dimension for the first time this year,” he added.
Meanwhile, Malaysia is credited alongside Japan as being the best performers on the “Reliability of Supply and Transparency of Tariffs Index” under the “Getting Electricity” indicator.
Last year, the country was also one of the best performers on this index.
Malaysia is also acknowledged as having made paying taxes easier by enhancing the electronic system for filing and paying the goods and services tax (GST).
The country is also recognised as one of the economies to have introduced the bureau or registry credit scores as a value-added service. — Bernama
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 26 — Australia is excited over sharing its expertise and expanding business linkages significantly with Malaysia in areas such as design manufacturing, the digital economy and financial technology at the upcoming Australia Business Asia Conference here next month.
Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia Rod Smith said trade, now at A$20 billion (RM63 billion), would hopefully increase further via more bilateral alliances, mainly because Australian firms see Malaysia as a key gateway to Southeast Asia under the Asean Economic Community (AEC).
A recent Australian government study found most Australian companies preferred Malaysia, along with Thailand and Singapore, as key countries to establish operations in Asean, he told a media luncheon today.
Such a continuing trend, he said, would be more significant with the coming onstream of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), in which both Australia and Malaysia were negotiating parties.
“Besides this, last year both countries signed a Joint Declaration of Strategic Partnership, which underlines the potential to strengthen our economic, trade, investment and education ties, building on an existing array of bilateral and regional free trade agreements,” added Smith.
Australia was among the first few countries which established diplomatic ties when Malaysia attained independence in 1957.
“We have gone beyond simply trading merchandise goods to trade in services, industry, industry collaboration and recognition of professional qualifications which are the new areas of focus,” he said.
Australian services firms feature significantly in tourism, education, accountancy, fintech, and the oil and gas sector, with potential in training in the health sector and food & beverage.”
Australia also has high speed rail (HSR) technology in niche products implemented around the world such as the TGV in France and in areas such as fuel efficiencies, driver technology and expertise.
The High Commissioner said the regional conference from November 10-11 themed, “Trading Up: Accessing Opportunities For Australian Business in Asia”, would be beneficial and timely for Malaysian, Asian companies with linkages with Australia to expand their operations.
Some 200 officials from quality companies are expected to attend the conference at which Minister of International Trade and Industry, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed, would deliver the keynote address.
Smith also said the Malaysia Australia Business Council (MABC) has for 30 years been pivotal in building up a comprehensive regional presence, which was why Malaysian firms should join the thousands of Australian businesses already in the region.
Australia has a high export profile in Malaysia, as evidenced by some 3,800 firms exporting to Malaysia alone, mainly to small- and medium-scale enterprises, with an additional 300 businesses on the ground and 20 with regional headquarters.
Leigh Howard, the chairman of MABC, said at the luncheon that the conference would be a valuable opportunity to meet up with businessmen from across the region in one location to match up and possibly expand trade and investments in Australia. — Bernama
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 21 — Malaysian timber industrialist Sir Yii Ann Hii was living his dream.
Everything was going as he had so carefully planned since age 21, while he was studying engineering at Australia’s Deakin University, Geelong, a port city in Victoria state.
He graduated in 1984 and joined the family timber business in Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. After four years he struck out on his own.
In 1990, he applied for a business visa in Australia, which was quickly granted, as the Malaysian from Sibu in Sarawak was already well known in the timber industry.
But the 56-year-old is now in a quandary. He wants to return to Australia where his wife, Beh Soo Hian, whom he met as a student, and their six children are, but he knows he would likely face prosecution by the authorities there.
Australia has ordered him to pay about A$50 million (RM160 million) in taxes, failing which, he would be sent to jail.
He had asked for a guarantee from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) that he would not be detained pending his appeal against the order but the reply was, “Pay up or go to jail”.
Yii, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2007, has business interests in Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.
He said he had never had problems or issues with his foreign tax returns until 2010, when he received a letter from the ATO which wanted to do a retrospective tax audit on him for the years ending 2001 until 2009.
Based on the audit, the ATO decided that Yii was a tax resident rather than a non-tax resident as he had been earlier classified.
According to Yii’s lawyer Datuk Alvin John, the Chairman of Investwell Group of Companies filed his tax returns in Australia as a non-tax resident throughout the years ending 2001 until 2009.
“The ATO made its claim based on its decision that Yii is no longer a tax resident of Malaysia, he is no longer a domicile of Malaysia and he has now moved to the domicile of his choice in Australia.
“This means that under Australian law, they can levy world tax,” John said.
He added that his client had always stated and proven that he was not a tax resident of Australia, never intended to be a domicile of Australia, and never stayed there for more than half a year.
Australian law stipulates that a person needs to be in Australia for more than half a year or 183 days to be a tax resident, John said.
He cautioned that Malaysians or foreigners having families in Australia for education or other purposes might be deemed to be tax residents of Australia and “thereby their worldwide income is going to be affected as well”.
An Australian Tax Consultant said the common determination of whether or not a person is a tax resident or non-tax resident is the length of stay in Australia, “which is, more than 183 days”.
“However, there are other factors that may make a person to be a tax resident such as their behaviour and action.
“For example, if a person purchases a house for his immediate family (wife and children) to reside in Australia as permanent residents, it may be seen as an intention to reside in Australia,” said Sabrina Ong who is a partner at Fortiz Accountants, based in Victoria.
Yii filed a case at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on July 22, 2016 against Australia’s Taxation Deputy Commissioner and Commissioner and the Australian government.
He is seeking a declaration that he is a tax resident of Malaysia, a domicile of Malaysia, and that the decision of the ATO that he had abandoned his domicile of Malaysia in favour of Australia is null and void.
The defendants are due to submit their affidavit on November 1. — Bernama
After killing off plans to expand in China last year, Insurance Australia Group chief executive Peter Harmer has said his company was looking to increase its share in a Malaysian joint venture and drive consolidation in the fragmented Southeast Asian insurance market.
Speaking to shareholders at Friday’s annual general meeting, Mr Harmer, who took on the top job at the insurance giant less than a year ago, said he was pleased with the company’s growth in Asia and had no immediate plans to increase the footprint in the continent.
But he said IAG, which operates brands such as NRMA, RACV and CGU, was looking to increase its stake in the Malaysian joint venture it runs with AmBank, the bank at the centre of the 1MDB controversy engulfing Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
IAG holds a 49 per cent stake in the AmGeneral Holdings joint venture. “We like to think we can enter into a negotiation with our joint venture partner in Malaysia to increase our share,” Mr Harmer said.
Mr Harmer also hit back at suggestions IAG was failing to seize offshore opportunities. One of his first acts as incoming chief last year was to abandon plans to obtain a licence to sell general insurance in China.
He said the board was “not sitting on our hands” and planning to let the Australian and New Zealand businesses carry the group, and IAG was looking at driving consolidation in Asia.
If IAG was “able to play some sort of consolidation role in the fragmented markets” the company would welcome the opportunity, Mr Harmer said.
“We are actually very pleased with the growth in our Asia businesses,” he said, noting that IAG’s businesses in Thailand and Malaysia were growing above the GDP rate.
IAG recently unveiled a 14 per cent slide in annual profit to $625 million after income from investments fell and as fierce competition kept downward pressure on premium prices.
Over the past financial year, proportional gross written premium grew more than 7 per cent in Malaysia and Thailand.
The share of the group’s earnings from Asia rose by $5m to $26m.
Mr Harmer also quelled shareholder discomfort about the sharp rise of digital competitors in the insurance space, such as challenger brand Youi.
Mr Harmer said although there was “a lot of noise in the market through their advertising campaigns”, challenger insurers were struggling for traction because Australian customers were loyal.
Youi’s local rise has been slowing recently, with gross written premium growth paring back to 12 per cent in the latest half year, down from 35 per cent the previous financial year and a rate of 57 per cent during 2014.
“We don’t take our competition lightly,” Mr Harmer said. “(But) we talk to our peers around the world — they are all jealous of our customer loyalty,” he said.
Mr Harmer also reconfirmed IAG’s year-end target for insurance margin, the group’s key profit metric, in the range of 12.5 to 14.5 per cent.
Australian businesses keen to make the most of the market opportunity in the Asia-Pacific region are failing to do their homework when it comes to preparing for their IT requirements.
New research, commissioned by ICT services provider NTT Communications, highlights that almost 50 per cent of all businesses that expand into Asia Pacific fail to recognise any greater competitive advantage as a result. With six out of every 10 business making a move unable to increase their customer base, NTT Communications ICT Solutions’s chief operating officer Tarquin Bellinger said there was an expectations gap and IT was part of the problem.
“Australian enterprises need to do their homework before expanding into Asian markets, particularly in areas such as IT and compliance which are not only unique to each part of Asia, but also directly impact their ability to grow and sustain a loyal customer base,” he said.
According to Mr Bellinger, the region on the whole throws up a number of complications for Australian businesses.
“Some parts of Asia are rich in state-of-the-art data centre infrastructure, while others still face issues of network and power supply stability,” he said. “Yet Asian consumers are, across the board, far more digitally advanced and demanding than their Australian counterparts.”
Mr Bellinger added that the most commonly experienced IT issue for Australian businesses operating in Asia was a lack of access to IT support. However, the NTT survey shows that of those enterprises currently planning to enter into Asia, only 10 per cent cited finding the right IT partner as a challenge during their expansion plans. “While rightly focused on issues of culture, compliance and budget, Australian businesses shouldn’t underestimate the importance of getting the right IT partner in place locally,” he warned.
Australian rare earths mining and processing company Lynas Corporation, a long-term customer of NTT, said that its experience in setting up shop in Malaysia was a good illustration of the complexities an Australian business has to be prepared to deal with, and why having a strong local services partner matters. “We knew there would be a power issue in Malaysia but when we got there we found that there was no power and no fibre to the site,” Lynas CIO Gillian Kidson said. “The local telco worked closely with NTT to fix the problem.”
Ms Kidson said there was a deep-seated cultural problem to be addressed.
Australia livestock exporters have endorsed market suspensions on Malaysian importers and facilities which have failed to meet animal welfare, control and traceability standards during the annual Korban festival period in September.
Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council CEO Simon Westaway commended Australian exporters with Malaysian supply chains for working proactively on the suspensions in support of the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS).
A number of facilities have already been suspended, and further sanctions are likely and could include industry action in accordance with the Malaysia ESCAS Control and Traceability Agreement, which came into effect in June 2016.
In recent years, Australia’s livestock export trade has undergone significant change. The impact of shock footage of traditional slaughter practices in Indonesia released in 2011 on the Australian public, transformed the industry almost overnight. Subsequently, the ESCAS regulatory regime was introduced.
Under ESCAS exporters must ensure livestock traceability throughout the entire supply chain. This ensures that livestock remain within an approved supply chain and provides assurance that the subsequent handling and slaughter of animals is accordance with international animal welfare recommendations.
Australian livestock must not be sold outside of approved supply chains and cannot be purchased for home slaughter or for slaughter at facilities that have not been approved as meeting international animal welfare standards.
Australia is the only livestock exporting nation which regulates animal welfare standards throughout the entire supply chain, right through to the point of slaughter in overseas markets. Additionally, of more than one hundred countries exporting livestock around the world, Australia is also the only country investing in delivering animal welfare skills to people working in offshore livestock supply chains.
“Poor welfare outcomes are never condoned nor excused by exporters,” said Westaway.
“As shown in the past month, not only in Malaysia for Korban but in the Middle East during Eid al Adha, transparency and accountability are important at all times in our industry and absolutely pivotal when problems in the supply chain are detected.”
Westaway said exporters were cooperating with Australia’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) in its investigations regarding supply chain leakages.
“Our message to the Malaysian supply chain is very simple. Just as Australian exporters must treat their ESCAS compliance obligations as absolute non-negotiables, our Malaysian partners and customers must do the same,” he said.
Westaway said the action demonstrated Australian livestock exporters’ readiness to act as a united industry in the best interests of ongoing, sustainable trade in overseas markets.
“The long-term sustainability of any livestock export market is compromised whenever Australia’s conditions for animal welfare, control and traceability are not adhered to,” he said.
“Australian exporters and our ESCAS-approved customers are heavily invested in animal welfare, control and traceability in our overseas supply chains throughout the year, not just around busy festival periods,” he said.
“The presence of animal welfare personnel and other industry representatives in countries like Malaysia enables exporters to constantly monitor supply chains, report ESCAS compliance concerns to DAWR as they arise and provide ongoing training and advice to livestock handlers.”
Westaway said exporters were reviewing their supply chains following the Islamic festival period and would continue to implement measures that prevent Australian livestock from being removed from approved supply chains.
Corrective actions implemented by exporters include independent auditing, the provision of additional training to facility staff, the suspension of supply chains and the appointment of animal welfare officers to oversee livestock control, traceability and welfare.
The live export industry contributes an average of $2 billion in export earnings annually to the Australian economy.
Kim Hin Industry (KHI), one of Malaysia’s largest integrated tile manufacturers, has just acquired the parent company of an Australian retailer of indoor and outdoor tiles, Amber Group Australia, trading as Amber Tiles.
The move expands and strengthens KHI’s Australian presence, it’s main export market.
Amber Group Australia has been trading since 1973, with a current network of 27 stores located in NSW, ACT, QLD and a distribution centre based in Blacktown NSW. The Amber Group will now have the benefit of it’s sister company Johnson Tiles (owned by Kim Hin Industry), which has operated in Australia for over 50 years in both domestic and commercial markets.
With showrooms in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, Johnson Tiles has a long, proud history grounded in manufacture, product development and customer service. Its global presence, conventional and cutting edge products at competitive prices will add international group research and buying strength to Amber’s offering.
“This latest acquisition will help grow Amber’s retail presence in Australia and expand the business significantly,” stated Kim Hin Managing Director, John Chua. “The iconic brand also represents a unique opportunity for KHI to enter the NSW tile and paving sector, expanding and strengthening its presence in Australia.”
“This latest acquisition will help grow Amber’s retail presence in Australia and expand the business significantly,” stated Kim Hin Managing Director, John Chua. “The iconic brand also represents a unique opportunity for KHI to enter the NSW tile and paving sector, expanding and strengthening its presence in Australia.”
KUALA LUMPUR: If you see someone struggling with alcoholism or eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, would you say that person has mental health issues?
Ramsay Sime Darby Healthcare Sdn Bhd (RSDH) chief executive officer Bronte Kumm posed this intriguing question and explained that these were symptoms of poor coping skills of mental stress.
In an interview with Business Times recently, he said mental health was a lot more broad-based than ordinary folks tended to assume.
“We’re all for evidence-based early intervention that would help ease those suffering in silence. Unfortunately, many who are in need of professional help are not getting therapy due to the costs,” he said.
Kumm acknowledged that mental health issues were not easy to spot and often treated lightly.
“A person who broke his leg would be sent to the hospital but one who is jilted or traumatised over the death of loved ones is often told, ‘you’ll get over it. Time will heal your broken heart’.”
The fact is, emotional injury is as real as a broken leg even though there is no sling or plaster cast to show for it.
In taking the cue of healthcare development in Australia, Kumm suggested that insurance companies in Malaysia consider including mental health treatment in their medical policies.
Kumm said this would be a step in the right direction following a recent government survey that revealed one in three Malaysians grappled with mental health issues.
“The prevalence of mental health problem is highest among teenagers and low-income earners,” said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam recently.
Last year, he said 425 people ended their lives, with hanging being the most common method. Many of the suicide cases were triggered by severe emotional and work stress.
Financial crisis, unemployment, marital problems, drug abuse and surrounding factors could have contributed to the twofold jump in mental cases in Malaysia over the last 10 years.
Also present at the interview was Dr Daniel Heredia, a key personnel of Australia’s Ramsay Group, who was here to participate in the Ramsay Sime Darby Healthcare Specialist Conference that gathered doctors from Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia to exchange clinical expertise.
Dr Heredia, who worked in psychiatry before moving into management, is medical director of Perth-based Hollywood Private Hospital, which is Ramsay Group’s largest hospital with 738 beds. The hospital has more than 700 accredited specialists and admits 70,000 patients per year.
Dr Heredia said Ramsay Group was at the forefront of championing emotional resilience and mental wellbeing. Attached to the hospital is the Hollywood Clinic which is staffed by clinical psychologists, registered mental health nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, art therapists, physiotherapists and dieticians.
Dr Heredia said mental wellness counselling at Ramsay Group was wide-ranging and included anxiety management, trauma recovery, mindful meditation, and music and art therapy.
Every year, the Ramsay Group promotes Australia’s “R U OK? Day” which seeks to raise public awareness of suicide prevention and early intervention in schools, universities and workplaces.
Last month, Dr Heredia said his hospital organised a cooking competition among staff members as a practical example of “people caring for people” in action. In a separate interview, Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia (APHM) president Datuk Dr Jacob Thomas concurred with RSDH’s suggestion for medical insurance coverage to include mental health.
“At APHM, we support the proposal that employers and insurance companies consider extending medical coverage to mental wellbeing,” he said. Dr Jacob said the World Health Organisation defined health in a broader sense as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
He noted that untreated mental conditions could lead to a loss in productivity, poor sleeping habits and withdrawal from social situations. At their worst, sufferers may resort to suicide to end the pain of emotional trauma brought on by intense shame and chronic loneliness.
Dr Jacob said people who lived with mental illnesses were often terrified to disclose their condition to friends at the college or office for fear of being discriminated and stigmatised. The old adage that prevention is better than cure rings true when it comes to good mental health.
“We have dentists visiting schools. It is time we introduced visiting therapists, too, in the hope of preventing suicides due to accumulated stress among students and teachers. A little bit of empathy can go a long way.
At APHM, we strongly recommend employers to regularly host mindful awareness programmes for their staff and have yearly medical check-ups that lead to good mental wellbeing,” he added.
In the three years following Australia's 2010 trade deal with Southeast Asia, Australian wheat exports to those countries grew by an average of 19 per cent a year which was more than double the growth of the region's overall wheat imports.
The industry organisation Grain Growers Ltd is reluctant to attribute this bonanza entirely to the tariff reductions in the relatively low-profile trade deal given Australia's freight advantages and dietary changes in the fast emerging regional middle class.
But Grain Growers manager of trade & economics Cheryl Kalisch Gordon says: "Does it make it easier for us to capitalise and grow? Absolutely." And she notes things get even better this year as Australian wheat can now be traded tariff-free around most regional countries.
However, when the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) polled its members last year about the value of the multiplying number of trade deals in this region they got a quite different response.
Fifty-seven per cent of respondents said they did not understand that 2010 ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (ANZFTA) and did not use it, which was actually a better result than for some other FTAs.
"Companies don't know what they [are] doing with these agreements," observes ACCI international director Bryan Clark.
Somewhere between these experiences lies the answer to an increasingly important question of how much business is taking up the growing range of trade deals from the past decade.
Southeast Asia is arguably the key to answering the question because it is a major source of alternative Asian growth as China slows and is closer to Australia. It also contains the largest number of deals.
Take, for example, Malaysia. If the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is now hamstrung by presidential election politics, survives and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) goes ahead next year, Australian businesses wanting to operate in Malaysia will actually have five separate trade preference choices.
Export Council of Australia chief executive Lisa McAuley concedes that "many Australian businesses, especially SMEs, do not have a practical understanding of the benefits of FTAs."
However she also argues: "Quite often FTA's remove barriers and companies are not even aware that they now do business because the FTA opened up the opportunity."
Australia now has three bilateral deals: with Singapore (agreed in 2003 but recently extended into standards and people movement), Thailand (2005) and Malaysia (2012). Then there's the regional wide ANZFTA.
On top of this there is potentially the TPP which includes Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei with some other regional countries wanting to join and the RCEP which includes most of east Asia and India.
Then there is evidence of quite significant sectoral variations in the use of agreements. The Austrade/ECA Australian International Business Survey polling on use of ANZFTA, for example, shows it was used by 43 per cent of agriculture exporters and 29 per cent of manufacturers.
But 29 per cent of wholesale traders and 23 per cent of professional services said they exported to this region without using it. And 69 per cent of training businesses and 59 per of IT businesses said they were uncertain whether the agreement would even apply to them.
On the import side government figures show that about 11 per cent of imports from ASEAN countries come into Australia under the ANZFTA deal and about 25 per cent under the three bilateral deals with Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. Much of the remainder would enter with no tariff given Australia's relatively low tariffs.
On top of this the Southeast Asian countries have their own relatively new ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) with a target of an integrated market by 2025.
But it says something about the uncertainty over the implementation of this agreement that one Australian trade expert says there are cases of indigenous Southeast Asian companies using the Australian-negotiated ANZFTA to trade across their own borders rather than the AEC.
Nevertheless confusion in Australia about which trade deal to use is a problem when the federal government often promotes the deals done on its watch as its single biggest achievement but its policy adviser the Productivity Commission continues to criticise the value of bilateral agreements.
In a new paper on the evolution of economic engagement with Southeast Asia the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is quite frank about the opportunistic approach to developing these deals: "Australian policy has been pragmatic in seeking to provide more commercial opportunities for Australian business.
"Bilateral FTAs add value by focusing more intensively on particular market access issues and other priorities than is possible in regional or plurilateral negotiations.
"The scope for Australia to engage intensively is dependent on the prevailing context and varies among ASEAN member states. Therefore the emphasis given to bilateral and regional approaches tends to vary over time."
Speaking at the launch of the HSBC Asean Connected report last month special trade negotiator Michael Mugliston, who has played a key part in many of these deals, argued they were not static and their diversity provided business with a range of opportunities.
But government strategists argue that the contacts built up through the negotiation of these deals means that Australia is much more familiar with the emerging debates on the regulatory and standards issues which are increasingly important to businesses wanting to enter regional supply chains and export services.
Indeed the DFAT paper says candidly: "Australia has not only become part of ASEAN's policy engagement, but embedded within ASEAN structures both formally and informally. It is a story driven by the reasoning that a stronger, more prosperous ASEAN is in Australia's interest."
While ACCI's polling reveals business uncertainty, some business strategists are more supportive of the government's opportunistic approach rather than waiting for an over-arching deal.
"You are exporting to a market not to a trade deal. You do need to compare these deals," says Ai Group international advisory services national manager Louise McGrath.
She says the trade negotiators' long involvement in the changing regional policy landscape has helped pave the way for early and sustained business involvement in the RCEP negotiations which should eventually produce a business friendly deal.
While the TPP has tended to overshadow the RCEP, McGrath says the RCEP is potentially more important to Australian business because it covers the entire landscape of the new supply chains.
"It's hard to find a member who doesn't have a supply chain coming or going to China (which is in the RCEP but not the TPP)," she says.
Grain Growers' Kalisch Gordon likewise says her members will benefit from the way the RCEP would expand the beneficial access they already have under the ANZFTA.
Melbourne cutting tool machine manufacturer ANCA moved part of its production to Thailand 10 years ago, taking advantage of the free component movement under the Thai FTA.
But now as China has emerged as its biggest export market it has discovered that the Chinese tariff on exports from the Thai factory are lower than from Australia even though Australia has a newer China FTA. The RCEP could fix these sort of intra-regional complexities.
HSBC global trade and receivables finance head Rohit Garg says that while business needs more help understanding trade deals the growth of them really shows a desire to find new trade paths.
He says a deal like RCEP which covers the entire supply chain is potentially more beneficial than the bilateral deal with China because a supply chain to or from China might run through a country such as Indonesia or Vietnam.
"Clients are focusing on emerging supply chains and how to make their own more efficient," he says.
He says most Australian businesses still regard Southeast Asia as a series of individual country business opportunities due to the disparities between the countries. But the search for new growth means neighbouring countries soon come into consideration for expansion.
Greg Earl is a former correspondent in Southeast Asia and a member of the Australia ASEAN Council board.
Kota Kinabalu: Australia's Chamber of Commerce Northern Territory Chief Executive Officer Greg Bicknell comes to Sabah at least once a year, especially for the Sabah International Exhibition (SIE), due to Northern Territory's special ties with Sabah, hence their continual participation in the trade show to maintain the relationship since the Berjaya era.
At the Sabah International Exhibition 2016, the booth of Australia's Northern Territory nearby the hall entrance features many of its security, educational and management courses and trade directory and services information, and a basket of its famous mangoes that are first exported to other cities in Australia, and from there to the world, not available in Sabah though.
Northern Territory's capital Darwin is the largest live cattle export capital in the world. Australian companies and consultants were involved in many business deals in the past.
Greg Bicknell hopes that more of its products and produce would find its way into Sabah's market in the way that Australian beef and dairy products have over the years.
Like Sabah with lots of petroleum reserves, the Northern Territory also has a fast-growing reputation in oil and gas education and training through the North Australian Centre for Oil and Gas at Charles Darwin University.
Sabah once had a cattle farming range there until it was controversially disposed off by the then Sabah government in the opposition for funds suffering under a federal embargo due to political differences, a decision that was rued until today, but nevertheless such business ties remain with Northern Territory that today still supply meat to many Asian countries, as Sabah could have.
Bicknell is a man who understands testy state-federal relationship as the Northern Territory was also on the backburner by past Australian central governments from tourism promotion to other federally planned development, except for Australia defence industry with training sites, bases and a US Marines contingent on rotation in Darwin.
Its port came under Mainland Chinese business management interests recently, while other Australian states scrutinise China's investors with suspicion, it's very open in Northern Territory.
"Sabah and Northern Territory share many things in common. Chinese tourists are thronging both places.
Tourism is a major employer and a significant economic driver for the Northern Territory economy.
In 2015, more than 1.5 million visitors came to the Northern Territory, worth nearly A$2 billion in visitor spending with two of Australia's World Heritage-listed attractions – Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Kakadu National Parks.
"In 2015, 41 cruise ships brought 59,000 tourists to Darwin. (Kota Kinabalu is also a cruise ship destination, the gateway to Mount Kinabalu World Heritage Site.)"
He agrees that without direct airline flight and shipping connections with Darwin from Sabah, public perception of Northern Territory here remains vague as far as people-to-people ties are concerned.
"Malaysia Airlines CEO who spoke at the business luncheon mentioned about looking at new routes, hopefully it's up to him to consider Kota Kinabalu-Darwin, other than the existing Kuala Lumpur-Darwin sector.
Likewise, Silk Air flies direct from Singapore weekly," he said.
Students and permanent residents from Sabah to Australia tend to settle in Perth and other Gold Coast areas and cities, although Northern Territory education institutions provide high-quality Australian qualifications that are globally recognised and respected.
Its Charles Darwin University (CDU) has state-of-the-art teaching facilities mean students from Asia can study in a world-class environment closer to home. CDU is ranked in the top 2 per cent of university in the world and in the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old.
CDU was the first Australian University whose engineering programs were accredited by the Europe-based EUR-ACE, an accreditation framework that identifies high-quality engineering degree programmes.
The Northern Territory is particularly renowned for its education expertise in engineering, disaster management and tropical health, serviced by three airports – Darwin International Airport, Alice Spring Airport and Ayers Rock Airport.
The Northern Territory is closer to Asian nations than any other educational institution in Australia and is well known in the international student community as a safe and welcoming environment where students feel at home with quality accommodation and flexible work options for international students.
The Northern Territory has one of the fastest-growing economies in Australia, which means there are plenty of work opportunities during their studies and on a post-study working visa.
Northern Territory is an agribusiness power house and is known throughout the Asian region as the source of some of the world's best commodities, products and services, that economic migrants try to reach by sea from Indonesia.
Refugees from South Asia and other parts mostly headed for Western Australia's coast.
Seeing also what happened in Sabah and threats of terrorism radicalisation in future, the Government of Australia steadfastly rejected them into the country, and once signed a deal with Malaysia to take them or languish in camps outside and within Australia, mainly processed from Darwin.
Asked on why Northern Territory is renowned for disaster management, Bicknell said that it was due to the Bali bombings that killed many Australians that a Malaysian varsity bomber maker was involved, that the Federal Government set up a base for disaster management in Darwin that later helped to move aid to the Philippines battered by Typhoon Haiyan quickly.
The Northern Territory already has strong family and business connections with China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Nepal, the Philippines, South Korea, Timor-Leste and Vietnam. Many international students have relatives in the Northern Territory or know people who have already studied there.
Its uranium power many of the world's nuclear reactors. Its petroleum energy supply provides 10 per cent of Japan's imports. It has some of the world's most sought-after commodities – gold, manganese, bauxite, base metals, phosphate and rare earth – that landed for processing in Kuantan, Pahang.
According to Bicknell, the rare earth shipments were on trial basis unsustainable for round-the-clock-production.
The opportunities are aplenty for both business community to develop and grow from agribusiness.
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