Interview: BRI beneficial to trade for all countries: Aussie former minister

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by Xinhua writers Bai Xu,Yue Dongxing

CANBERRA, July 26 (Xinhua) — The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will be beneficial to trade for all countries, a former Australian federal minister said on Friday.

Andrew Robb, former minister for trade and investment, is now an advisory board member of Australia-China Belt and Road Initiative, an Australian government-supported policy institute.

He told Xinhua in a telephone interview before the release of the Belt and Road Initiative-Commercial Relevance report to the Australian Agriculture Sector next week.

“I am very optimistic about what the Belt and Road can contribute to the region,” he said. “There are many countries that have not got the level of development, and the BRI, I believe, can make quite a difference to the growth rates of their economies, the quality of life of people, and the reduction of poverty in those countries.”

He noted that the BRI is focusing on infrastructure in under-developed countries, in particular “looking to give connectivity between many of these countries so that trade can move easily and cost effectively from the under-developed countries into other parts of the region and other parts of the world.”

“I think it is very helpful to further opening up these economies,” he said. “We’ve seen as China opened up in the last 40 years, what has happened. Five hundred million people out of poverty. It’s a humanitarian miracle,” he continued.

“That is all stemmed from the opening-up of China’s economy and other countries are following suit, especially within the Asian region. So I feel that the BRI will assist that direction of policy in so many areas.”

The BRI, or the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, was launched by China in 2013 to promote trade and economic cooperation among economies along the ancient Silk Road trade routes, and to further open up markets in a mutually beneficial manner.

Robb believed that the BRI could become a way of engagement between China and Australia going forward as well.

“It is already happening,” he said. “If you look across the BRI in the region, some major Australian companies are playing a part in many of those projects, whether they be infrastructure projects of roads and rail or energy issues.”

Last year Victoria became Australia’s first state to sign up to the BRI.

Robb said that Australia is very strong in many areas, and it has got a role to play in the BRI in providing a very strong presence with those additional soft services, such as health care, education, and the aged care.

Robb also spoke highly of the inaugural China International Import Expo (CIIE) last November.

“It was a very good initiative,” he said. “It was the first one and I think it will get only better and better … I think Australia had nearly 1,000 business people attended and that demonstrates what Australian business thought of the initiatives.”

Robb believed that the second CIIE, slated for this November, will continue to see a strong Australian business presence, because of the opportunity that it presents to further enhance trade between the two countries.

The year 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Known as an architect of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, Robb witnessed the development of China and the growth of trade between both countries.

“It (the development of China) exceeded all expectations,” he said. “The level, the pace and the nature of the development in China has been remarkable, and has really benefited literally hundreds of millions of people in China … At the same time, the growth that China has experienced has been beneficial not only to Australia, but to others especially countries within the region.”

According to the Australian Trade and Investment Commission, nearly a quarter of Australian exports are directed to China, which remained Australia’s largest two-way trading partner.

“The free trade agreement has been of enormous benefit already to both countries,” he said.

However, the China-Australia relationship has experienced challenges in the last a couple of years. Looking into the relationship, Robb said “I am confident and optimistic that some of the unfortunate disagreements can be put behind us.”

“I found the commercial relationship is very strong,” he continued. “There are still issues to be resolved at the political level, but at the commercial level, I think the relationship continues to be very strong, and it should provide the evidence we need that the political level issue should be resolved.”

“What China does best, we need, and what we do best, China needs. And we can be very good friends and partners in trade and investment,” he added.

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