The contribution of international trade and investment to the everyday lives of Australians rarely attracts much attention. Yet our lives are daily enriched by the goods, services, ideas and opportunities international trade and investment provide. At the same time, Australian goods, services, and ideas enrich the lives of people living in countries that are our trade and investment partners. International trade and investment is very much a two-way street.
You only need to look around you to see how the goods we buy from businesses in other countries support what we do every day. Computers, phones, furniture,clothes, cars, planes, pens, solar panels, books, garden tools, pumps,batteries, tractors, bags, hand cream, candles, toys, fly spray, and dish clothes. Australian companies also manufacture a multitude of goods that are used by people around the globe. We sell to overseas customers medicines, sunscreen,herbicides, leather, Ugg boots, wooden doors, cartons, books, jewelry, copper wire, aluminium, metal casting machines, drills, and data processing machines. Australia is a very big exporter of goods used to make things elsewhere – think iron ore for steel, and coal and gas to generate electricity.
Australians also enjoy eating many types of imported food – salami, pasta,soy sauce, cheese, wine. But we are also one of the world’s major exporters of agricultural products – wheat, beef, wool, cotton, lamb, pasta, wine, and dairy products.
Services make up about 80 percent of Australia’s economy. These range from education and health services, to engineering, hairdressing, transport, dog walking and building services. In the same way we can buy and sell goods overseas,Australians buy and sell services internationally. International tourists and students visiting our shores make up our largest categories of services exports. Our overseas holidays were Australia’s largest services import before COVID.
Most jobs in Australia are also shaped by our international trade and investment. Some jobs are clearly dependent on international trade. Mining, for example, accounted for around 60 percent of Australia’s total exports in 2019-20 and employed around 238,000 people. Australian farmers export about 70 percent of what they produce. Without international customers that buy our agriculture and food products - our agricultural sector would be far smaller and far poorer than it is today.
People working in Australia’s higher education and tourism sectors depend heavily on international students and visitors. Border closures due to COVID demonstrated just how reliant these jobs are on our international trade in these services.
Even jobs you’d think are 100 percent Australian rely on our international trade and investment. Our health care professionals rely on a lot of technology, treatment methods and drugs imported from overseas. Our teachers use computers and classroom materials often sourced from other countries and teaching methods developed in classrooms around the world. Our police drive patrol cars built overseas.
Australia’s international trade and investment relationships also give us access to an array of ideas and information that we generally take for granted.Books, movies, music, computer programs, medical procedures, industrial designs– Australians contribute to, and take from, the huge global market for these ideas. Australia’s trade in intellectual property has a major impact on our way of life.
There can be negative consequences from our reliance on international trade and investment. When our trade partners unfairly block our exports, Australian businesses can lose sales and suffer financially. Equally, were the Australian Government to unfairly block or restrict imports or exports, our relationships with international partners can suffer. Using trade as a weapon can hurt businesses and erode trust between countries. The environmental impact of international trade has also attracted a lot of attention as a possible negative consequence of Australia’s reliance on international trade and investment.
Despite these potential negative consequences, the lives of the vast majority of Australians are sustained and directed in some way by the goods, services,ideas and money that flow between Australia and other countries. It’s easy to ignore this impact when trade and investment flow. And for much of our history before and after the arrival of Europeans, Australia’s trade and investment has continued to flow though buffeted by geopolitics, changes in technology and consumer trends, and times when people wanted to close themselves off from the world and turn inward.
At ACITI, we believe international trade and investment make an important contribution to the Australian way of life. We believe it’s important that Australians have access to information on our trade and investment practice, profile, policy and research so you can better understand how international trade and investment impacts on you.
‘ACITI Info’ aims to make it easy to access information on Australia's trade and investment practice, profile, policies, programs and research. We provide snapshot summaries of key trade and investment topics relevant to Australia and links to places where you can find more information.
The ACITI website is a living source of information so don’t hesitate to challenge what you read here, tell us what we’re missing, and prod us for more information. We welcome your questions, suggestions and ideas for new content.
Check out the labels on the processed food you eat or the clothes you wear. Find out who holds the copyright on your favourite song. For statistical information on what Australia buys (imports) and sells (exports) overseas check out the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade trade stat services here.