Digital transformation is one of five “megatrends” reshaping the global COVID recovery, according to Australia’s trade and science agencies, which argue the country needs to “make scientific and technological leaps” to take advantage of them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted huge human loss, disrupted global supply chains, and crippled Australia’s tourism and education sectors. 

The IMF has forecast economic growth will be -4.4 per cent globally while foreign direct investment is forecast to shrink by 40 per cent — investment levels not seen since 2005.

Today, the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) and Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, warned the global trade and investment landscape will not revert to a pre-COVID world and outlined their plan of attack for the nation’s pandemic recovery.

Emerging technology and “digital texports” will be key, the agencies say, to Australia recapturing its decades of economic growth which has traditionally been driven by mineral resources.

“Data science and technology will be crucial to drive our economic recovery and build our future resilience,” said Jon Whittle, director of the CSIRO’s digital technology arm, Data61.

“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.” 

A way out

A joint report from Austrade and Data61 identified five “megatrends” of the near future that Australia can take advantage of in an increasingly competitive global market:

  1. Digital transformation — the shift of economic activity from the physical world.
  2. Investing in supply chain resilience— the increasing importance placed on sovereign and/or resilient supply chains.
  3. Localisation — the trend towards domestic travel and local living and buying patterns.
  4. Changing economic landscape— more national debt, higher unemployment and lower productivity.
  5. The “new normal” — more and more uncertainty around geopolitics, climate change impact and escalating cyber security risks.

“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,” according to the report.

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

According to the report, to take best advantage of the shifts, Australia should use more emerging technology like AI and machine learning; boost digital exports like education; expand the research and development sector, capitalise on its reputation as a safe destination for tourism and business, increase critical minerals exports; expand agriculture and agtech exports; and develop a more robust trade and foreign investment capability.

Source: Data61, Austrade, Global Trade and Investment Megatrends.

The report recommends nine “strategic actions” for government and industry to capitalise on the changing environment, including an estimated decade’s worth of digital transformation occurring in a few months.

The recommendations include a data-driven approach to trade and investment, boosting digital exports, building a “pandemic proof” education sector, and developing an export earning disaster resilient technology industry.

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