ABIE Webinar with H.E. Brendan Berne, Ambassador of Australia to the French Republic and Honorary President of ABIE France, 06 May 2020

Australia…Germany…United Kingdom…Spain…Czech Republic… Participants logged in from all over the world for the ABIE France webinar with speaker H.E. Brendan Berne, Australian Ambassador to France and Honorary President of ABIE France, on May 6.

In his detailed presentation Ambassador Berne looked closely at Covid-19 and the economic perspectives between France and Australia.

Among the 83 participants were members of the ABIE International group network Jason Collins, CEO of the European Australian Business Council, Sabine Pittrof, Chair of the German Australian Business Council, Gina Bowman of ABIE Spain ASBA and Richard York, of ABIE Czech Republic.

Joining from London were Warren Bartlett, of Trade and Investment, Queensland, and Julia Mills, of the Victorian Government, while Mike Deeks, Agent General of Western Australia and Myriam Boisbouvier Wylie, Honorary Consul General of France in Melbourne joined from Australia.

Ambassador Berne said Covid-19 had caused the biggest economic shock since the Great Depression.  With the IMF estimating that the global economy will shrink by 3% this year, the figure for France is 8% and that of Australia around 4-5%. (By comparison, the global economy shrank by 0.1% in the 2009 Global Financial Crisis.)

“This new crisis has given voice to some calling for closing trade borders, avoiding supply chains and increasing tariffs” said the Ambassador.  “This is something I am watching closely. Australia has been built on foreign investment. Our screening for investment is a light touch, and this has played an essential role in our success.”

A former economist, Ambassador Berne added that the Australian Government had put together the biggest economic lifeline in its history….$A320 billion over 4 years, the equivalent of 16% of the annual GDP. $A130 billion will be dedicated to JobKeeper payments to keep Australians in work, and another one billion dollars to supporting business.

“We have put our economy, if not in a coma, then to sleep.  This was a conscious policy decision. The question now is – how will it impact on our lives?”

Pointing out that the number of new Covid-19 cases in Australia had stabilised at around 100 per week, Ambassador Berne said the Government was considering relaxing restrictions.  This includes the possibility of opening up travel between Australia and New Zealand – although probably under a longer timeframe.  A “Trans-Tasman Bubble”, as the media are calling it.

Five million Australians have already downloaded the contact tracing app, COVIDSafe, which shows a high level of confidence in the Australian Government.

To a question about the on-going Australian European Union Free Trade Agreement, Ambassador Berne said they were continuing. “Australia is committed to the negotiations, as is the other side.  We had to put the brakes on face to face exchanges, but we are adapting, and the pace of ministerial exchanges has never been higher.”

ABIE President Bernard Tabary warmly thanked the Ambassador for his comprehensive analysis of the political, diplomatic, economic and other implications of the Covid-19 crisis. He concluded by commenting that “In his brilliant presentation, Ambassador Berne has confirmed Australia’s commitment to the Australian EU FTA.  This is very good news.”