Delegation of the European Union to Australia

Western Business Front: European economic & trade counsellors visit WA

26/03/2019 - 06:56
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Economic and trade counsellors representing 16 EU Member States travelled to Western Australia to strengthen ties in key sectors including mining, space, defence and innovation. The delegation met with business and political leaders during the five-day visit, coinciding with the 2019 WA European Business Week, 18-22 March.

The tour began 250km south of Perth with a visit to Australia's largest lithium mine in (Talison) Greenbushes. There is a growing demand for the mineral which is used in the production of batteries for electric bikes and vehicles, touch screens, aerospace alloys, wind turbines, glass and ceramics.

Mining is an important sector for WA, that continues to power jobs and growth. The delegation visited the BHP refinery in the Kiwana industrial zone to learn more about the growing demand for lithium in products like smart phones and electric battery technology. There was a site visit to Hoffman Engineering, an Australian company with German heritage, that designs and manufactures industrial-scale gears and gear boxes.

Mining was also on the menu when the delegation met Bill Johnston, WA Minister of Mining and Petroleum for a ministerial luncheon at Parliament House. 

Food for thought

In the Margaret River, three hour's drive south of Perth, the EU's system of identifying food products based on origin (Geographical Indications) provided 'food for thought' and plenty of discussion at the Cape Mentelle Vineyards. The delegation joined local producers and experts for the Good Food means Good Business: GIs as a Driver of Local Development in WA discussion on the benefits of GIs for local communities and the success of the system in place for wine, in particular producers from the Margaret River.

Prior to the Q&A panel discussion, organised by the EU Delegation together with the EU Centre at RMIT and the South West Development Commission, the delegation toured WA's food bowl, the Southern Forests region with an annual agricultural value of $127 million, an increase of 17% in the past five years!  

The region, home to 450+ exceptional food and wine producers and the towns of Manjimup, Pemberton, Northcliffe and Walpole, is fast becoming world-renowned for gourmet food and agri-tourism. Alex Wilson, from Manjimup Turffles and Wines, explained that the Perigord-like climate makes it the leading area for black truffles in Australia. Speaking at the GI event, he sees himself as a ‘diamond merchant’ selling the most expensive truffles in the world. He says he can get these prices from the best chefs and restaurants because they associate the region with exceptional quality – and that's why he wants the area to be origin protected.

Exploring economic partnerships

In Perth, the WA European Business Week continued with a focus on innovation, defence and space. Federal Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds welcomed the EU and Australia "developing and growing new industries together." Cooperation in cyber, surveillance, intelligence and space was explored during the inaugural Defence Industry Forum, which brought together key players across the sector. 

‘With 500 million consumers, the EU is an enormous opportunity! WA is actively looking for investment’ the State's Minister for Regional Development Alannah MacTiernan told delegates, ahead of the Business Innovation Day. Sentiments echoed by her colleague Minister for Asian Engagement Peter Tinley, "Perth is an international city that is open for European business! It is the perfect launchpad into South East Asia." Perth Airport Chair Neville Power wants to see the direct flights from Perth to London extended to Germany and France. While Rick Newnham, Chief Economist from the WA Chamber of Commerce, said "we must all be steadfast advocated of free trade."

The Business Innovation Day shone a spotlight on innovation from Italy, with five companies - Enerbrain, D-Eye, FoodChain, D-Orbit and Leaf Space -  pitching their energy efficiency, block chain technology, aerospace, nano-satellites and medical marvels.

Space & technology

State-based innovation was further explored with site visits to the Pawsey centre, Curtin University, home of the super computer Magnus. The facility collaborates on research projects world-wide, including Europe through the PRACE project.

At International Centre for Radio Astronomy, at the University of Western Australia, the delegation learned more about the SKA radio telescope - one of the largest inter-governmental scientific endeavours in history, with founding partners including: France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, United Kingdom, Malta and Spain."Our huge back yard of nothing is WA’s best asset! We get to explore the universe with the world’s largest radio telescope," the State's Chief Scientist Professor Peter Klinken said during the Business Innovation breakfast briefing.

It was a nostalgic visit to the International Telecommunications Centre for European Space Agency colleagues, Pier, Yves and Jean Charles, who took part in the WA- European Business Week discussions. The ESA was active at the site (where the site visit to Dutch company Fugro took place) near Perth from 1986-2015. Its Australian operations are now in New Norcia where a surge of deep space exploration and a second 35m dish is foreseen. Watch this 'space!'

The 2nd WA - European Business Week was a resounding success. Ambassador Michael Pulch, who has visited the State five times since taking up the post, told participants - We'll be back!

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Want to know more about the EU's growing relationship with WA? Read Ambassador Michael Pulch's editorial in the WA Business News here.

And see some more of the highlights in the EU Australia facebook photo gallery.

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