Does Queensland need trade commissioners?

Following the news that Premier Bligh has appointed the Australian Industry Group’s Chris Rodwell as the new Trade Commissioner to the Americas (Peter Beattie’s previous LA-based gig), today’s Courier-Mail ran a thought-provoking editorial, “State must come first in envoy posts”.  Without in any way questioning Mr Rodwell’s fitness for the job, as he’s clearly a first class choice, the editorial asks the sensible question:

Do we actually need a trade commissioner for the Americas, or anywhere else for that matter, particularly given that the Federal Government has its own large, global network of trade facilitators in the form of Austrade?

This is a good question, given that Queensland’s dozen or so trade commissioners across the world cost a reported $30 million per year.

Austrade must certainly be doing a lot of work to promote Australian exports, and hopefully Queensland is getting its fair share of the promotional effort.  According to the Productivity Commission’s Trade and Assistance Review, at 30 June 2008, Austrade’s overseas network comprised 117 offices in 63 countries.  As the Courier-Mail editorial suggests, instead of funding our own trade commissioners, Queensland’s money might be better spent keeping Austrade in the loop on the latest Queensland products and making sure they have up-to-date promotional materials on our wares.

By the way, the Productivity Commission’s Trade and Assistance Review (at the link above) contains some pointed messages regarding Austrade’s effectiveness (on p. 28).  It’s in classic bureaucratic speak, but if you can read between the lines, it’s devastating.  We may need to think about whether governments have any role in promoting exports at all.

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