RBA member claims “bountiful” export surge: Is it true?

Reserve Bank of Australia board member John Edwards has claimed the biggest surge in export volumes on record may be holding up the dollar despite falling commodity prices.

Edwards says Australia was in the grip of a “bountiful” mining and energy export-driven revenue surge according to The Australian Financial Review.

He indicated this was helping underpin the Australian dollar because exports were supporting the economy and ultimately federal government taxes.

“I personally would have certainly preferred to see it weaken and it hasn’t and that does suggest global markets have more rapidly adjusted to the Fed’s plans to normalise than expected,” Edwards told the paper.

We asked the experts whether there was a surge in exports and what the impact was on the dollar and on SMEs.

Is there a surge in exports?

The latest figures from the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation record a trade surplus for Australia of $1.4 billion in January, its highest level in nearly two-and-a-half years.

“Export values have surged, driven by increases in rural and resource export volumes,” Cassandra Winzenried, senior economist at EFIC said in a statement.

“This is despite steep declines in commodity prices to multi-year lows over the past month that have been driven by slowing growth and signs of financial stress in China”.

EFIC predicts the trade balance is likely to continue in surplus as the Australian resource boom moves from the investment to the export phase.

This is fuelling speculation that not just a trade, but a current account, surplus may emerge – for the first time since 1975.

Is the growth confined to the resources sector?

The growth in exports is mainly driven by the mining and resources sectors according to Peter Mace, general manager of the Export Council of Australia. 

“I don’t think it is coming through outside the resource sector,” he told SmartCompany.

“There’s good opportunities, meat had a good run last year but that was on the back of a lot of farmers reducing their stock.”

Mace says there is potential for export growth in the IT sector and the health and aged care sectors.

“There is a lot of potential with the free trade agreements with Japan and Korea being signed up,” he says.

“Growth will be huge if China signs up [to a free trade agreement]. New Zealand’s exports rose by up to 50% after its agreement with China was signed.” 

What’s the impact on currency and SMEs?

While exports have gone up over the last couple of years the Australian dollar has fallen from around $1.07 USD to around the 80c mark, according to export business consultant Cynthia Dearin. 

“Rising export volumes are not traditionally correlated to a higher dollar,” she says.

“Export volumes have gone up significantly and it has happened as the mining and resource sector has dropped off.”

Dearin says whenever the dollar falls the opportunities to export improve for small and medium size businesses.

“I don’t think it is going badly for the SME sector but I think it could be going better,” Dearin says.

She says regardless of the currency situation SMEs find it a challenge to start exporting as many are not sure how to go through the process.

“If you look at countries like the UK, Germany and Singapore they all do significantly more to support their exporters than we do,” Dearin says.


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