On tour: Taking Australia to the world

As Victoria State’s Super Trade Mission reaches the Middle East in time for Gulfood, one of the largest food and beverage shows in the world, Leonard Stall meets The Hon Louise Asher, the Minister for Innovation, Services and Small Business, to discover its key aims

The Hon Louise Asher, the Minister for Innovation, Services and Small Business, and the Minister for Tourism and Major Events in the Australian State of Victoria, is currently ‘on tour’.

Together with the representatives of some 100 companies from the Australian State, Minister Asher is travelling the Middle East ‘ramping up trade engagement’, promoting investment in, and exports from, Victoria.

It’s the State’s first ever multi-sectorial ‘Super Trade Mission’ to the MENA region, and the country’s largest ever, and it includes representatives from the food and beverage sector, infrastructure, water management and agribusiness. The region already generates AUD2.4bn to the Victorian economy every year.

Earlier in February the party was in Doha, Qatar. Mid-month it’s Abu Dhabi, before part of the mission travels on to the KSA. Minister Asher will then join Victoria’s Premier Ted Baillieu on a ‘Super Trade Mission’ to Delhi, India, on February 21 and, soon after, Premier Baillieu will visit China as part of the State Government’s Trade Engagement Programme, targeting many of the world’s biggest growth markets.

But Gulfood, one of the largest food and beverage shows in the world, is the highlight of this leg of the short frenetic trip, and Minister Asher is giving interviews to various media on the State of Victoria exhibition stand.

Around 80 of the 100 companies joining this trade mission are here for the Gulfood event, an opportunity to showcase their products and expertise to more than 65,000 buyers from across the region, and indeed the globe.

The Australian state regards Dubai as a prime gateway to MENA’s increasing demand for clean, safe, high quality and specialised foods – in 2010/11 the region imported AUD830m worth of Victorian food and beverage.

The excellent quality and safety of Victorian food and beverage is also on show to key buyers, importers and distributors at a series of ‘Put Victoria on Your Table’ networking events, at Gulfood, and during the rest of the Trade Mission. These culinary feasts feature Victorian produce as the stars of the show, and builds on the State’s reputation as a world-class supplier of food and beverage.

Dairy and meat products are top of the menu. Victorian dairy exports to the Middle East and North Africa grew by almost 18 per cent from 2009-10 to 2010-11, and were worth AUD272 million. “Victoria accounts for 87 per cent of the value of Australia’s dairy exports and has a reputation second-to-none in terms of both quality and quantity of product available,” adds the State’s Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, Peter Walsh.

While food and beverage is leading the Aussie charge to the Middle East, other sectors have joined in with the Trade Mission.

“Victorian companies are also renowned for expertise in infrastructure development – be it port development, rail infrastructure, or most notably, assisting in the construction of the world’s tallest building in Dubai in 2009,” says the Minister.

“The professionalism and skill of our companies are world-class and I am proud to be showcasing this capability,” she comments.

“Victorian companies are also developing innovative solutions to water management issues, addressing critical development issues related to long-term sustainability and liveability.”

Minister Asher highlights the catalytic role of Emirates, in particular, in the growing relationship and connectivity between the Australian State and the Middle East. Emirates Airlines now operates three flights a day to the Victorian State Capital, Melbourne, and is the key sponsor of The Melbourne Cup horse race. “The airline has had links with Melbourne’ since 1996 and is now entrenched in the community,” comments the Minister. Etihad also flies daily into Melbourne from its base in the UAE Capital.

The Victorian State Government has 13 business offices around the globe, from Shanghai and Nanjing to New York and San Francisco. But, one of its oldest is in Dubai, in the Emarat Atrium on Sheikh Zayed Road, led by John Butler, the Commissioner for the Middle East and North Africa.

The Dubai Business Office celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2012, an act of foresight by Minister Asher’s predecessors, and it acts as a hub for the region, helping Victorian business, and businesses, on an on-going basis, as well as promoting foreign direct investment in the State. Two more offices are scheduled to open soon, earmarked for India and China.

Fact file Victoria, Australia
* Victoria is home to 5.5m residents.
* While it accounts for only 3 per cent of Australia’s landmass, it accounts for 25 per cent of Australia’s population and 24 per cent of the country’s economic activity.
* Victoria’s capital, Melbourne, is a cosmopolitan city of 4m people. It is Australia’s fastest growing city and a leading business hub.