A new parliamentary inquiry will look at how government can best help Australia’s small to medium enterprises (SMEs) take advantage of the export opportunities created by free trade agreements (FTAs).

The Inquiry into Access to Free Trade Agreements by Small and Medium Sized Enterprises is inviting submissions from SMEs who have successfully taken advantage of FTAs, and from those who have faced barriers.

Queensland federal MP Ted O’Brien said parliamentarians wanted to understand the opportunities and challenges faced by SMEs who would like to use FTAs to drive exports.

‘We really want to hear from those Australian small and medium-sized businesses which have successfully taken advantage of free trade agreements to export their goods or services into new markets across north Asia, and more established markets too, such as New Zealand, the United States, Thailand, Singapore and Chile,’ Mr O’Brien said.

‘But we also want to hear from the experiences of those small and medium-sized businesses which have either been wary of the risks or costs involved in exporting, or those who have tried but not succeeded with exporting into the growing list of countries with which Australia has secured free trade agreements.

‘We want insights into how supportive federal, state and territory governments and also business networks have been in encouraging smaller exporters to leverage FTAs into worthwhile new export opportunities.’

One Queensland company that has benefited from an FTA is Natural Evolution, based on the Atherton Tableland in Far North Queensland.

Natural Evolution is the first Australian business to produce and export banana flour, and now boasts a world-first pharmaceutical production plant for green-banana products.

Co-founder and director Krista Watkins said an FTA with Japan had been of direct benefit to Natural Evolution.

‘The Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA) has not only allowed Natural Evolution to grow, but it has also helped to build positive relationships and connections within the international market,’ Ms Watkins said.

‘If we didn’t have JAEPA in place, exporting wouldn’t be a viable option for us.’

Prior to JAEPA, the tariff for banana flour was 9.6%; it is currently 3.2%, with another reduction due in April this year.

The new inquiry will also consider how much SMEs know about FTAs, what goods and services should be included in FTAs, and ongoing capacity-building to help SMEs get maximum value from FTAs.

It was announced on 1 March and is currently accepting submissions.

Building export capacity among SMEs is also one of the initiatives identified under the Queensland Government’s Queensland Trade and Investment Strategy 2017–2022.

Recent FTAs signed by Australia include the Peru-Australia FTA.

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