Adapt to ‘megatrends’ for economic recovery

A new report released by the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) and Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, reveals Australia will need to make scientific and technological leaps and harness its competitive advantages to speed its economic recovery in a post-COVID-19 world.

Global Trade and Investment Megatrends, co-authored by CSIRO’s data and digital specialist arm, Data61, and Austrade, uses strategic foresight to identify five megatrends that are reshaping global trade and investment over the coming months and years, and offers nine strategic actions for governments and industry to position the nation for success.

Austrade acting Deputy CEO, Global Client Services, Sally-Ann Watts, said the world would not return to the way it was before the pandemic.

“A global pandemic has fundamentally changed our world, hastening the global shift to digital services delivery, disrupting supply chains and posing serious challenges for Australia’s tourism and education sectors,” Watts said.

“The global trade and investment landscape will not revert to a pre-COVID world. This report provides evidence-based opportunities for succeeding in this new world.”

The report estimates that a decade’s worth of digital transformation occurred within the space of a few months and that the digital technology sector is expanding worldwide.

This presents an opportunity to further develop Australia’s data-science capability applied to trade strategies and investment attraction.

Director of CSIRO’s Data61, Jon Whittle, said the momentum of rapid digital transformation through the pandemic must be maintained.

“Data science and technology will be crucial to drive our economic recovery and build our future resilience,” Whittle said.

“Digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robotics and data science can help us create new sources of wealth generation for the nation, and shift the dial for Australia on an international level.”

According to the report, the pandemic resulted in global trade and investment contracting sharply, with foreign direct investment forecast to shrink by 40 per cent, against a backdrop of -4.4 per cent economic growth for the current year.

There are signs of recovery, however the report identifies that the new trade and investment landscape that emerges will have long-term structural shifts.

These shifts provide Australia with the opportunity to grow digitally enabled exports, and to use digital technologies to grow all other export categories, according to the report.

“Overall, this megatrend paints a picture of rapid, widespread, and deep digital transformation fuelled by the necessity of remote working, learning, shopping, healthcare, communication, entertainment, and other activities,” the report said.

“There will also be opportunities for Australian companies to acquire domestic and globally produced digital technologies to improve the efficiency of their operations.”

The report also notes that while Australia, like other nations, was dealing with significant disruption to key industries such as tourism and education, it was also likely to benefit from the “safe-haven effect”.

“While the global trade and investment marketplace will become more competitive, Australia has significant sources of comparative advantage. There’s likely to be a flight from risky to safe assets and supply chains and … we have maintained reliable supply chains and a stable economy throughout the crisis.”

Following extensive consultations with businesses, industry, the academic community and government agencies, the report highlights multiple opportunities to capitalise on these global shifts:

  • Using AI, machine learning and data science to sharpen Australia’s trade and investment attraction strategy;
  • boosting digitally enabled service exports such as education;
  • expanding and investing in Australia’s R&D capability, including attracting top scientific talent;
  • capitalising on Australia’s reputation as a safe destination for tourism and business;
  • building a pandemic-proof education sector;
  • boosting Australia’s Critical Minerals exports;
  • expanding our food, agricultural and agri-tech exports;
  • developing an export-earning disaster-resilience technology industry; and
  • developing trade and investment foresight capability, including risk analyses and scenario planning.

Austrade and CSIRO’s Data61 will host a virtual thought leadership forum on 17 November to present and discuss key findings of the report with an expert industry panel. Individuals can register at www.austrade.gov.au/event/megatrends#/event