Tim Harcourt | The Airport Economist

The Asian white paper is a great chance for Australia to explore the opportunities our closest neighbours offer us, and education is the key: as it offers great points of engagement with Asia and longer lasting and deeper relationships.

The long-awaited Asian Century white paper was released on Sunday. Ken Henry’s paper covered a broad range of issues including education, language skills, technology and security in the fastest growing region on the planet.

Australia has been earning big dollars through rocks and crops – now we’ve got to do a bit more learning through education and service exports. But I argue that now it is vital for Australia’s trade that the white paper lifts our engagement with Asia, and identifies opportunities for government and business.

Just speaking an Asian language whilst helpful is not sufficient – we need to be Asian business literate, and understand the economies of our Asian partners to succeed in our engagement.

As younger Australians engage with Asia through education and exchange, technological advances and social media, the nature of their relationship with Asia will be different from that of previous generations. Demographic change in Asia will mean more opportunities for Australian services providers in the traditional areas of education and tourism but also in areas focused on wellbeing.

We should be at the forefront of offering financial services to Asia, and Australia could become the dominant financial centre in the region. Australian capability in financial services will be critical in the fourth wave of our economic engagement with Asia, as finance is the fuel that lubricates international trade. Financial services trade volumes picked up substantially in 2011 after four years of stagnation, rising by 22 per cent.

Tim Harcourt is the JW Nevile Fellow in Economics and an adjunct professor in International Business Strategy, at the Australian School of Business, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) & author of The Airport Economist:  www.theairporteconomist.com.