Free trade agreements (FTAs) are international treaties that reduce barriers to trade and investment. Image credit: DFAT
We’ve heard a lot lately about Australia’s new free trade agreements (FTAs) with Korea, Japan and China. These deals offer a heap of promise to our goods traders, because tariffs are cut on their products making them cheaper for buyers in these markets and therefore easier to sell.
But they’re not much good if nobody uses them. Many would-be exporters and importers, particularly small businesses, like the sound of the FTAs, but they don’t know where to go to get the information they need to start reaping the benefits.
Enter Data61, our new data innovation group. The team was called on to work with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to develop a new online, digital service with the main aim of making the FTAs accessible to exporters big and small. In other words, it had to be user-friendly, allowing users to be in the driver’s seat when exploring what’s on offer.
Typically, trade agreements run to thousands of pages and contain all sorts of complex information about such things as ‘rules of origin’ and ‘product certification’ – not to mention hundreds of pages of tariff schedules listing every iteration of trade item along with details of tariff cuts under the deals. If it’s beef, is it frozen or fresh, is it a prime bone-in cut or has it been minced and blended for hamburger patties? What’s the tariff cut, but does a quota still apply? You get the picture.
So the challenge for our team at Data61 was to take all of this complex information, including data sets, across three big FTAs (accounting for 62 per cent of our goods exports), process it all, and then build a web portal to present it to users assuming they have little knowledge about how the agreements work. Not a simple task. (Oh and by the way, it had to be accessible on mobile devices as well desktop computers.)
Export sales to Japan have jumped since the Japan-Aus Economic Partnership agreement. Image Credit: DFAT
To do it properly – and to deliver a platform which provides a valuable user experience – Data61 consulted extensively with all the types of people who would be likely to use it. As it was being developed they let punters road test a beta version, to provide feedback and suggestions about how to enhance its ‘usability’.
The end result is the FTA Portal, a digital resource that allows users to navigate the agreements and find the bits that are relevant to what they do. It allows them to make an informed assessment about the benefits the FTAs may bring to their businesses and how to go about using them.
One of the key features of the portal is an easy to use search engine, which translates trade lingo so that common language can be used in the search for relevant products. This means you don’t need to know that beef is officially called ‘meat of bovine animals’ to get you started. The portal also provides relevant trade data and information about the target markets relevant to the searched product, including the import market size, growth rate and market share by country. There is also a step-by-step guidance for checking if items qualify for preferential tariff treatment and links to other useful information.
It is fully mobile responsive for smart phones and the like and web accessible for people with disabilities. It is also aligned to the Australian Government Digital Service Standard to help make government websites easier for the public to use. As an added bonus the underlying data is available for others, like industry groups and customs agents, to use on their own websites or in other creative ways. This is called an API (or application programming interfaces in full) that is like a smart plug for connecting data to other apps and websites.
All in all, Data61 has played a starring role in delivering the most impressive resource of its kind anywhere. There’s never been a better time to start exporting!
Check it out at ftaportal.dfat.gov.au
For more information contact Colin.Griffith@data61.csiro.au or Dana.Sanchez@data61.csiro.au