Trade Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith will announce the move today, in a new strategy to boost South Australian trade with Europe which focuses strongly on the state’s French connections through the multi-billion-dollar future submarine project.
InDaily can also reveal that French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will visit Adelaide before Christmas to officially open the local office of DCNS – the French company that won the $50 billion contract to deliver Australia’s next generation of submarines.
The sheer size of this contract has prompted the State Government to make France a centrepiece of its new European trade strategy which references “nuclear energy storage” as an advanced manufacturing opportunity, despite the state’s nuclear waste dump debate being pushed out to a referendum at an unnamed future date.
The strategy says the submarines contract is a “gamechanger”, which will prompt the appointment of a Paris trade representative with a brief to deepen the state’s relationships not only with France, but with mainland Europe.
Dubbed “Project Pont”, the Government’s French strategy crosses economic, social and cultural areas, and includes establishing joint university programs and French curricula in South Australian schools.
While the defence industry is a focus, the strategy also sees opportunities in “defence adjacent” industries and non-related industries such as renewable energy, “nuclear energy storage”, climate change, space industries, the “Internet of Things” and technology.
Tourism, the arts, sport, food, wine and agribusiness are also seen as potential areas for increased trade and cooperation.
The strategy flags a sister region relationship with Brittany, where DCNS has facilities and where universities have developed submarine intellectual property. Defence Minister Le Drian is the president of the region.
The Government also promises to seek sister city relationships between “strategic” French and South Australian cities.
South Australia has had an Agent-General in London since 1856 to promote the state’s interests in Europe. The new Paris office will be focused on building and maintaining close relationships with major European companies “so that local capabilities can be assessed against opportunity and potential South Australian suppliers are presented to major European contractors in both defence and non-defence industries”.
Hamilton-Smith told InDaily the Government was yet to determine the size and make-up of the Paris trade office, which could be as lean as one trade representative with a locally-hired support person.
“We have engaged local agents (in Paris) to help with tourism in the past, but we haven’t had a full office there to my knowledge,” he said.
“We’re giving some consideration to what we would do in Paris – it’s early days, but it’s likely to be established in the near future.”
He said the opportunities for leveraging the growing defence relationship with France ranged across industries including medical technology, education, food and wine.
“We want to explore those things and it’s a bit hard to do that from London,” he said.
Hamilton-Smith said he hoped to finalise a sister region relationship with Brittany next year.
On the inclusion of nuclear industries in the strategy, he said the opportunity had been included in case there was a change of heart from the state Liberals, who have announced their opposition to a high level nuclear waste storage facility for South Australia.
“That’s subject to the broader decision to put that on hold for the moment, until the Opposition re-engages in a bipartisan way,” he said.
He said 80-85 per cent of France’s energy was sourced from nuclear power plants, adding: “When was the last time that someone cancelled their visit or refused to drink French wine due to that?”
The broader European strategy says the Government will seeks to expand direct air freight links with European markets to reduce costs for exporters.
Six key countries will be the initial focus of the strategy “to avoid dissipating effort over too wide a range of potential markets”.
The targeted countries will be France, Germany, the UK, Sweden, Switzerland and The Netherlands, with renewable energy and climate change cited as economic opportunities in most markets.
The countries were chosen on the basis of current links with SA, “complementarity of economics”, sectors of strength of SA and R&D strengths in the proposed markets.
Hamilton-Smith plans to lead a trade delegation to Germany, The Netherlands, France and the UK in September next year.
The four key “actions” in the strategy are:
- Taking full advantage of defence contracts.
- Attracting foreign direct investment.
- Increasing exports.
- Increasing research and development activity.
In relation to the latter, the strategy aims to “identify and redirect” research investments by companies in Europe to projects in South Australia.
The strategy’s mention of opportunities in nuclear storage comes as a group of prominent South Australians call for the local debate to continue.
The issue was put on the political backburner in November by Premier Jay Weatherill. Responding to a citizens’ jury rejection of nuclear waste storage in South Australia, he said he favoured a referendum on the issue at some point in the future.
That was seen as the end of the issue for the time being. But an open letter from 25 prominent South Australians released on the weekend calls for more work to be done on the idea.
The signatories were supported today by three more local identities: University of SA Deputy Vice Chancellor Tanya Monro, businessman Graham Walters and philanthropist Geoff Day.
Monro, a member of the state’s Economic Development Board, said the nuclear industry could offer South Australia long-term economic advantages.
“One of the most obvious benefits is that money generated by this new industry could be used to establish critical infrastructure to give SA a long-term advantage – whether that be large scale energy storage to complement our strong renewable energy assets, better transport systems or cultural and public infrastructure,” she said.
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