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International students key to realising Australia's FTA ambitions in Asia

By Oliver Theobald - posted Tuesday, 13 January 2015

With the announcement of the recently concluded Free Trade Agreement between Australia and China, followed by similar agreements to liberalise trade with South Korea and Japan, few could fault Canberra for not taking trade with Asia seriously.

Bookended by the Labor Party's Asian Century White Paper and the Liberal Party's New Colombo Plan, Australia's forward thinking stands head and shoulders above our western counterparts.

Australia has set the structural framework to open and accelerate trade links, and has established a platform to produce a new wave of Asia literate and bilingual talent into the local workforce.


But inevitably the future face of business in Asia will not just be the Australian participants of prestigious student exchange programs.

International students studying in Australia from North East Asia well ultimately be the key in realising Australia's regional trade ambitions under the new FTA agreements. International students in Australia thought are too often overlooked as a commodity rather than as an investment for the future.

Every year Australia effortlessly pumps out an enormous cohort of potential trade envoys to the region and with no cost to the Australian taxpayer.

Now that trade liberalisation will open new markets in North East Asia for Australian goods and services, it is international students returning to the region who are best placed to connect Australia with the market for live cattle, milk, etc., over the coming years.

Connecting Australian farmers and agricultural companies to the local market - and especially in China - is no easy feat. China is ranked 128 in the world by the World Bank Group for starting a business. Japan and South Korea are ranked 83 and 17 respectively on the same list.

A white face and broken Mandarin is a meek force to navigate the labyrinth of bureaucratic paperwork and regulatory requirements, or to secure deals and coordinate logistics and supply routes in China.


Australian entrepreneurs and companies need local partners in Asia that they can trust. Returning international students who are bilingual and familiar with the Australian way of life will help to tick that box.

Returning international students typically possess extensive family business connections and access to capital in their home countries as well.

As they gain more experience in the workforce, returning international students are also absorbing important posts previously occupied by lavishly paid expatriate workers.

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About the Author

Oliver Theobald is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Nanjing Center and a Prime Minister’s Asia Endeavour Award recipient. He currently works as the Relationship Manager with the Australian Chamber of Commerce Beijing and is a Co-founder of Asia Options.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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