Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Interview. Andrea Carlo Biggi (Australian Embassy), on economy and culture: We also need to combat misconceptions that Australia is too far to be relevant to Romania’s commercial interests

image from interview

According to the officials, diplomatic relations between Australia and Romania were established in 1968. At the present, Australia is represented by a non-resident Ambassador to Romania based in Athens, deputy head of mission Andrea Carlo Biggi. Business Review met with the diplomat at Sibiu International Theatre Festival, and talked about the bilateral relations of the two countries in the business and cultural fields.

What are the major areas of trade between the two countries? Are you satisfied with the current volume of trade? In addition, what measures do you feel should be taken to increase this?

In 2015-16, Romania was Australia’s 62nd largest merchandise trading partner – a jump of 10 places on the previous year. Australia’s two-way merchandise trade with Romania was USD 288 million – up 67 per cent from the 2014-15 financial year. Romanian imports from Australia amounted to USD 40 million and consisted mainly of telecommunications equipment and parts. Key Romanian exports to Australia were ships and boats, and mechanical handling equipment and parts, as well as women’s clothing, and plywood and veneers.

Which are top Australian companies in Romania?

Australian companies with a significant presence in Romania include Orica Limited (through Minova Romania S.R.L.), Nufarm Limited which has established Nufarm Romania and Soprano Design.

How can Australia-Romania business ties be strengthened?

There are a number of steps which we could take to strengthen bilateral business ties. We need to build support for key elements of our international trade agenda. The Embassy has been active to advocate the benefits of the proposed Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the European Union with influential government and business leaders. A Free Trade Agreement would provide an important mechanism for promoting stronger trade in goods and services, and boosting two-way investment with Romania. The Australian Government is committed to securing a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU. We would welcome Romania’s support.

We also need to combat misconceptions that Australia is too far to be relevant to Romania’s commercial interests. One key pillar is social media. Launched in June 2015, the Embassy’s Facebook page may soon reach 5,000 followers. This is a strong platform from which to promote an accurate image of Australia as a modern and sophisticated, well-connected to the economically dynamic Indo-Pacific region. The Australia Day event in Bucharest in 2016 sought to boost Australia’s profile as an innovative country offering world-class educational opportunities. We need to capitalize on these links and expand them as we approach the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations in 2018.

A key factor to strengthen the business relationship relates to the ease of doing business. Investors are looking for a consistent regulatory framework that is transparent and easy to navigate.

Which industries in Romania have the most potential for increasing their business with Australia?

We also need to support Australian companies interested in investing in Eastern Europe by matching local opportunities with Australian capabilities. Romania’s energy, infrastructure, agriculture, water management, healthcare, defence and financial services sectors offer immediate areas of interest. We need to support a first, head-turning investment which could assist building broader business interest. And we need to facilitate connections between Australian and Romanian business bodies.

This was your first time at Sibiu International Theatre Festival. How did you find it?

I was truly impressed by the Sibiu Theatre Festival. There was such a mind-dazzling array of performances. I tried to pack as many events as possible in my two days in Sibiu. And I wish I could have stayed longer. I saw dancing, circus, street art and performances and two Romanian theatre production. It was fantastic to be able to enjoy performances from a number of different countries and to see some of the common artistic threads which bind them. The quality of the performances was constantly very high. And I was also impressed by the artistic conversations that the performances created at the daily media conferences.

Australia was represented this year at FITS with two performances, Circa Contemporary Circus and Gravity & Other Myths. Who made the selection for this particular circus companies and how do you help them to be present at our festival?

We were very proud to have an Australian presence to this year’s Sibiu Festival. The selection of the two companies was made by the organizers of the Festival. The Embassy was pleased to provide EUR 6,000 to cover some of the costs incurred in bringing the two performances to Sibiu.

How often do we have Australian performing arts companies in Europe? But in this part of Europe, SEE?

Australia and Europe has geographically far, but culturally close, notes Australia’s deputy head of mission. “There is a steady stream of Australian artists travelling to Europe. We hope that there may be more Australian artists coming to the region in the future, including to the Sibiu International Theatre Festival. This year, our Embassy supported the participation of the two mentioned performing groups to Sibiu. It also supported the featuring of three Australian classical movies at the Athens Open Air Film Festival. Looking at the region, there are connections between Australia and music festivals. An Australian singer, Isaiah Firebrace, participated in the Eurovision song context in Kiev earlier this year.

How do you promote the Australian culture in SEE? But in Romania?

Culture provides a unique and critical forum for fostering mutual understanding and relationship-building. Cultural diplomacy has a vital role to play in international relations. Alliances are just as likely to be forged along the lines of cultural understanding as they are on economic or geographic ones.

We leverage Australia’s creative industries, including fashion, design, and architecture, in line with the Government’s economic diplomacy and innovation agenda as well as development assistance priorities.

Through funding arts and cultural activities in priority countries and regions, we aim to: establish networks and promote collaboration and exchange between Australian artists/arts organizations and their international partners expand audiences and markets for Australian artistic work and creative products promote Australian expertise in arts production and management leverage public-private partnerships recognize the role of cultural actors as authentic and accessible barometers and agents of social change influence perceptions of Australia at home and abroad.

The Australian Sports Diplomacy Strategy 2015-18 capitalizes on Australia’s sporting assets and expertise to promote Australia’s diplomatic, development and economic interests. The whole-of-government strategy provides a practical way to inform, engage and influence key groups, particularly youth, emerging leaders and women and girls.

How do you measure the effectiveness of cultural diplomacy?

In terms of evaluation, we have adopted a three-year time frame. This will not only ensure a less opportunistic and more strategic and thematic approach to programming—it will also provide a stronger basis to assess impacts and results, supported by improved monitoring and evaluation of activities.

Work is underway to develop a practical measurement framework that will guide monitoring and evaluation of public diplomacy activities. The framework will identify realistic indicators and a plan for targeted independent evaluations.

We will develop a systematic approach for gathering qualitative evidence that demonstrate outcomes that become visible over time. This information will be used to generate best practice case studies to facilitate learning and continuous improvement.

The impact of digital communications will be measured through analytics and development of a social media dashboard.

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