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Australia Confronts a Changing Economic World

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The nature of Australia’s trading relationship with the rest of the world has changed dramatically in the 75 years since the end of World War II. In 1945–46 the total value of Australia’s exports of goods and services was $19 billion. It remained relatively low for the next 25 years, passing $50 billion only in 1969-70. It took a further 15 years to double, passing the $100 billion mark in 1984–85. It doubled again to $200 billion in 2000-01, and more than doubled again to $473.7 billion in 2019.

The nature of Australia’s export commodities has also changed rapidly over recent decades. Right up until the early 1980s rural commodities such as wool and meat dominated Australia’s exports. The shift away from this rural product reliance began in the 1970s, initially driven by exports of coal and iron ore.

Service exports began to assume a more dominant role in the 1980s. Short-term visitor arrivals into Australia went for about 137,000 in the early 1960s to over 2.5 million in 1991–92 and 9.3 million in 2019. The rural sector had a corresponding drop in its relative importance, accounting for about 42% of exports in 1969-70 to around 10% in 2018–19. Minerals and fuels on the other hand rose from under 17% to over 50% in the same period.

It was not just the structure of Australia’s exports that changed rapidly. The principal markets also changed radically. In the early 1960s the United Kingdom took 24% of Australia’s exports, the United States 13%, China 7.7% and Japan 22.4%. The figures for 2018-19 show a radical change. The United Kingdom has shrunk to less than 1.5%, the United States 3.9%, Japan a small shrinkage to 18% and a dramatic rise for China to just under 37% of the total.

Of Australia’s 25 largest export markets, (who account for the overwhelming majority of total exports) Asian countries constituted the greatest proportion, both in number and in value. Of the top 10 export markets, seven were in Asia (the other three being the United Kingdom, 4th, the United States 5th, and New Zealand 8th.) China, by far........

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