Beyond Our Shores

Essays on Australia and the Global Economy

If ever you are unsure about the advantages of open trade, why not take a lead from students in economics and consider the story of Robinson Crusoe. Generations of students have discovered how Crusoe, shipwrecked on a desert island and cut off from the outside world, improved his welfare as he became economically re-integrated into the wider world.

It is perhaps fitting therefore that Tim Harcourt’s Beyond our Shores focuses on Australia, the world’s driest and only island continent, to present an excellent and balanced collection of articles illustrating in concrete terms the benefits, as well as the challenges, of globalisation.

While books on globalisation are aplenty, far too often they focus on the downside. Beyond our Shores is refreshingly different. Mr Harcourt, who is chief economist at Austrade, draws together essays to paint the emergence of a dynamic, innovative and diversified community of Australian exporters.

He explains, for instance, the transformation of the wine industry, led by exports of wines into European, American and Asian markets, that are of consistent and improving quality due to a commitment to research and development and a willingness among winemakers to adopt the latest technology in winemaking and marketing. The transformation has been so rapid that within 20 years Australia has become the 4th largest wine exporting country, earning some AUS$3 billion per year in export revenues.

Beyond our Shores also offers insights into how Australia has managed to reform its economy over the past two and half decades and position itself to benefit from new technologies, the emergence of rising market economies, particularly in Asia, as well as more open and competitive international markets.

Tim Harcourt argues convincingly that this is leading to a more diversified export base, notably in knowledge-intensive sectors, such as biotechnology. While resource and rural products are still the main exports, many readers will be surprised, as this reviewer was, to learn that Australia is now a leading exporter of hearing implants and tissue-engineered cellular products for skin grafts.

By using Australia as an example, Mr Harcourt manages to present an accessible and probing analysis of the drivers of globalisation, and the opportunities it promises to deliver to economies and businesses of all shapes and sizes. A core purpose of Beyond Our Shores is to raise the aspirations and confidence of Australian enterprises in export markets, and to boost awareness of the professional services that Austrade can provide. Commercial traders and investment promotion professionals from many countries will clearly find the book useful, as will students in economics, even if they should still read Robinson Crusoe.

A useful addition to the book would be an overview of Australia’s export performance at the aggregate level, and how it compares with its competitors. This would evidently present a less rosy picture. In fact, according to the OECD measure of export performance for total goods and services, Australia’s performance has slipped by some 25% since 1999. This, of course, is not an indictment on Austrade. On the contrary, it shows that many of the challenges Australia faces do indeed lie beyond its shores.

It also points to a broader challenge facing the Australian economy itself. Seizing new and expanding traditional export markets is a never-ending job. It requires adding to an economy’s productive capacity, including its export infrastructure. Supply-side bottlenecks in Australia’s ports and transport network are holding back export potential. But reducing such obstacles involves a domestic policy agenda that is wider ranging, including attracting a higher level and more efficient investment in infrastructure. These issues may exceed the scope of Beyond Our Shores. Nonetheless, I look forward to one day reading a companion volume, maybe entitled Within Our Shores.

Essays on Australia and the Global Economy, by Tim Harcourt, Australian Trade Commission (Austrade)

Chapters can be downloaded for free at, “Economist’s Corner”.

©OECD Observer No 256, July 2006

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