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European Australian Business : 2008
29 Nicola Watkinson huge wealth of experience in dealing with the complexities of doing busi- ness in Asia. This expertise is growing all the time. In Australia, multilingual increasingly means dexterity in Asian languages. In fact, Chinese is now the second most widely spoken language in the country. Many Australians are also fluent in European languages, ensuring easy communication with their counter- parts in Europe. Australia also enjoys institutional advantages. The country has free trade agreements (FTAs) with New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and the United States, and is negotiating FTAs with China, Japan, Malaysia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These agreements have reduced the entry barriers for Asian trade by lowering import duties, increasing transparency and improv- ing regulatory compliance. Australian companies point to the benefits of the FTA with the United States and look forward to reaping the same benefits that an agreement with China will bring. Focus on innovation Australia is attracting investment by companies that need niche skills in high-value occupations. In particular, the country’s highly trained workforce has allowed it to develop as a regional hub for research and development (R&D) and intellectual property. In 2005–06, business expenditure on R&D increased for the seventh consecutive year to a record A$10 billion, effectively doubling in only five years. Australia has a strong Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) program that combines the research efforts of the public and private sectors in approxi- mately 70 CRCs which operate across all industries. The pharmaceuticals development industry is worthy of note. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Australia is the number one location for clinical trials when benchmarked against the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, India, Japan and Singapore. With the aid of investment from abroad, our innovation industries will continue to feed industrial demand across the Asia-Pacific region. A century ago, Australia suffered from the tyranny of distance. Now it is in the right place at the right time. That long trade route back to Europe is still strong, and this time, Australia can of- fer European businesses a way to pull closer to Asia. Nicola Watkinson Senior Investment Commissioner, Europe Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research department of innovation, industry, science & research