The Australia Japan Business Co-operation Committee (AJBCC) stands as a testament to the strong and longstanding economic ties between Australia and Japan. Established in 1962, this influential organization has played a pivotal role in fostering collaboration and enhancing bilateral trade relations between the two nations.
At the core of AJBCC’s mission is the promotion of economic growth through open dialogue and strategic partnerships. The committee serves as a platform for Australian and Japanese businesses to engage in meaningful discussions, share insights, and explore avenues for mutual benefit. Over the years, the AJBCC has facilitated numerous successful initiatives, ranging from joint ventures to research collaborations. By addressing challenges and leveraging opportunities together, businesses under the AJBCC umbrella have strengthened the economic fabric of both Australia and Japan.
In this interview with Bridges, Richard Andrews, CEO of AJBCC, provides a deeper look into the efforts of organization towards an enduring and ever-evolving solid economic partnership.
Bridges: Can you provide an overview of the AJBCC’s historical impact on strengthening business relations between Australia and Japan? What are some key achievements that the committee is particularly proud of, in terms of fostering investments, joint ventures, or other significant collaborations?
Richard Andrews: The AJBCC’s greatest contribution, with its counterpart the Japan-Australia Business Co-operation Committee (JABCC), to the business relationship between Australia and Japan has been to bring together a regular annual forum with key officials and the most senior business leaders from each country. These meetings have helped to foster and develop long-standing relationships of trust, towards discussing the key issues of the day and the long-term needs of the business relationship. These joint meetings operate as a hub for business networking, and many deals have resulted from meetings among individual companies in their margins.
But the secret of the two Committees’ success is that their focus has been firmly on ensuring that the emphasis is on developing the relationship so that all companies operating within it can benefit; that, and in providing a forum in which individual companies can develop their own networks. The success of this approach can be seen in the growth of the joint business meetings from what were initially small gatherings of no more than fifty people to a full-blown two-day conference recognized as the pre-eminent business networking event in the bilateral calendar. Over 700 people — including senior government ministers and dignitaries, as well as some of the most senior business leaders from both nations — attended the 60th Annual Joint Business Conference in Melbourne in October 2023
Could you share specific examples of major investments or joint ventures facilitated by the AJBCC that have significantly contributed to the economic ties between Australia and Japan? How do these reflect the committee’s commitment to fostering mutually beneficial relationships?
The content and focus of discussions within the AJBCC has evolved with the relationship over the years. In the early days, as trade was restarting following the signing of the landmark 1957 Agreement on Commerce, the focus was very much on practical impediments to what was then largely trade in agricultural goods and textiles, such as tariffs, complicated quotas and regulatory arrangements. As the relationship grew and diversified, the annual joint meetings enabled greater familiarity and interpersonal links to be developed among those involved in often tough negotiations on resource prices. They also formed the backdrop to the development of collaboration that led to the creation of some of Australia’s largest export industries: iron ore, coal and LNG.
More recently AJBCC and JABCC advocacy was important for creating the conditions in which the landmark Japan Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA) could be negotiated and concluded, resulting in significant further liberalization of bilateral trade and investment, and paving the way for still further broadening and deepening of the economic relationship
Over the years, how has the AJBCC evolved to address changing dynamics and emerging opportunities in the business landscape between Australia and Japan? Are there specific initiatives that have been implemented to keep the committee effective in promoting cooperation?
While their primary objective is the promotion of business, the AJBCC and JABCC have always taken a broad view of what is needed to sustain the business relationship. In the early 1970s, as trade and investment grew, the two committees identified the need for commercial activity to be underpinned by greater cultural and social familiarity and advocated successfully to government for the signing of what in 1976 became the landmark “NARA Treaty” – the Basic Treaty on Friendship and Co-operation between Australia and Japan. The two committees were also active early proponents of Australia-Japan cooperation on broader regional issues, advocating for a Pacific Basin Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development – foreshadowing the need for regional economic institutions.
The AJBCC and JABCC also ventured into initiatives promoting Australia-Japan collaboration in third country markets, such as a landmark series of discussions on infrastructure collaboration that generated several reciprocal bilateral missions and historic joint Australia-Japan infrastructure missions to India (2010) and Indonesia (2011).
What are the current focus areas of the AJBCC to foster continued collaboration between Australian and Japanese businesses? Additionally, how does the committee continue to facilitate further cooperation? Are there any upcoming projects or initiatives that you would like to highlight?
We currently stand at a high point in the Australia-Japan relationship. In addition to the hugely important economic contribution each country has made to the success of the other over the past fifty years, recent years have seen increasing political strategic closeness, based on a clear recognition of shared values and national interests. Our Prime Ministers and senior government ministers meet frequently and business continues to thrive. New patterns of investment by Japan into Australia are emerging, with significant sectoral diversification occurring at the same time as a concerted push into new energy projects.
At the same time, regional and global changes are underway that make the mission of the AJBCC and JABCC all the more important. The joint statement from our recent Conference highlighted the following areas: the challenges posed by the need to de-carbonize our economies, in line with our governments’ shared pledge to become carbon neutral by 2050; the opportunities created by both countries’ imperative to enhance their economies’ productivity through innovation and technology; the productivity imperative for creating more diverse, inclusive workforces; and the need to ensure that the relationship can be taken forward by new generations of leaders who have strong familiarity and expertise in working across our two cultures.
Everything points to this next phase of the relationship being even more people-intensive than the era that has gone before. The creation of new industries and new forms of collaboration requires the creation of new networks and new ways of working together. These networks will be needed across an unprecedented range of activities – from clean hydrogen and ammonia, green steel production and renewable energy to new collaborations on innovation and technology, in areas as diverse as robotics and nanotechnology, space, artificial intelligence and life sciences.
Strong business input will also be required into government policy-making in these new areas to ensure our countries are working together within frameworks that are fit for purpose. The AJBCC has an active agenda to service that requirement. Our Future Leaders Program is actively engaged in identifying future human resource needs for the relationship and devising ways of encouraging new, well-qualified entrants. Our ongoing program of networking events is designed to bring senior businesspeople together with key government decision-makers to ensure business views on the relationship can be heard. Emerging working groups within our membership are generating new events in an ever-increasing range of sectors to discuss and address these new requirements.
Our recent conference featured an unprecedented range of side-events including our Australia-Japan Innovation Alliance Forum initiative, now in its second year; a series of events on gender equity, diversity and inclusion; the formation of a business group to meet regularly to discuss clean hydrogen; a round table on critical minerals co-operation; discussions and site visits on infrastructure collaboration; business implications of developments in the Cloud; and opportunities for investment in real estate. We will continue to build on these activities in the coming year as we look towards the 61st annual Joint Business Conference in Nagoya in October – including a significant event in the first half of 2024 – to discuss the emerging new energy partnership and the shared challenges of de-carbonizing our economies.