Australia - Overview
A declining majority of people (58% according to certain surveys) say they are Christians. Most Protestant Churches, except the Anglican Church, have merged to form the Uniting Church; the Catholic Church has a large number of believers. There are also non-Christian minorities. 20% of the population say they are non-believers. The Aborigines do not have a religion strictly speaking, their entire culture is based on religion.
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Since the 2000s, Australia's growth has been driven by the mining boom. Australia is the only country of the OECD that did not enter into recession during the financial crisis. The Australian economy experienced an increasing revival since 2010. Its growth rate declined in 2013 (+2.5% of GDP) a reduction which was due to the conclusion of the relaunch policies and to a drop from the Chinese demand in exports. The mining sector represents about 20% of the GDP, but the investments are declining. Australia has many other assets: a massive export of agricultural products, a solid domestic demand and a strong financial sector.
The Australian economy is in an enviable situation: the country's public debt is the lowest in the OECD, it has a surplus budget and a sustainable economic growth. Nonetheless, the government remains ready to respond to the potential effects of the crisis in the Euro-zone. At the end of 2012, the Central Bank intervened, lowering interest rates to their minimum since 2009. The voluntary policy of the government to face the international crisis was very successful, with social plans, investments in health services and infrastructures and measures to increase labor productivity. The government is also trying to improve the country's competitiveness, especially in relation to the competition of Asian exports, as well as to respond to the challenges presented by an aging population and the country's climatic problems (droughts, floods). The Australian economy has benefited from the growth of the Asian countries with which the country does its trade. Australia wishes to conclude a free-trade agreement with China, which is its main trade partner. Asia absorbs the essential exports and ensures the majority of the country's imports. Australia also keeps strong relations with the western countries, notably with the United States. Lastly, the mining activity induces a very fast-paced economy, which makes its economic diversification an imperative issue. The strong appreciation of the national currency has weakened the manufacturing sector and the tourism, strengthening its dependence on the mining sector.
Australia is a prosperous country and its GDP per capita is amongst the highest in the world. Despite the recent increase of the unemployment rate due to the global recession, this rate remains under control at around 5%, even though, it is slightly increasing due to the slowdown of investments in the mining sector. In 2013, Australia ranks as the second best country in the index of human development of the world. The country will be, however, affected by global warming. The conservative government, in power since September 2013, has repealed all the environmental measures in order to sustain the industry sector.
The tertiary sector occupies a dominant position in the Australian economy (more than three-fourths of the GDP), but the agricultural and mining sectors are the most important for its exports. Australia is a vast agricultural country and one of the world's main exporters of wool, meat, wheat and cotton. The country is overflowing with mineral and energy raw materials and the export of these ensures the country with substantial revenues. Australia is among the top 10 producers and exporters of most mineral ores. It has the world's largest reserves of numerous strategic resources such as uranium, of which it holds 40% of the world's confirmed reserves.
Traditionally, Australia is an importer of finished goods. Its industrialization is fairly recent, a fact which explains the small scale of its manufacturing sector, which only employs one-fifth of the active workforce. The manufacturing industry is built up around the food industry (approximately one-fifth of the workforce), machinery and equipment (around 20%), metal processing and metal goods (nearly 20%) and the chemical and petrochemical industry (slightly more than 10%).
Foreign trade overview
Australia is very open to international trade, which represents almost 45% of the country's GDP (average value for 2009-2011).
The foreign trade of Australia was characterized by a structural trade deficit until 2007, but since then, the country has been alternating between periods of surplus and periods of deficit. In 2013, exports increased 6% and the trade deficit was reduced by 67% (about USD 7 billion of deficit at the end of 2013). The agricultural exports, in particular, were very dynamic. In a structural way, the international trade highly depends on the Chinese economic situation, the prices of raw materials and the value of the Australian dollar.
Australia is accelerating its integration into the Asia-Pacific area. Its main trading partners are the Asian countries (especially China), the United States and the European Union. In 2013, Australia started negotiations with China in order to conclude a free-exchange treaty.
Australia is one of the OECD countries most open to foreign direct investment (FDI), the latter representing over one-third of the country's GDP. According to the World Investment Report 2013, published by the UNCTAD, Australia ranks in 7th place among the world's largest FDI recipients. Its economic liberalism, stability and the transparency of its legal system, in addition to its strong economic growth over the last 15 years, compensate for the narrowness of its market and its geographic isolation, making it a desirable investment destination. After having slowed down in 2009 due to the international financial crisis, FDI flows were very strong in 2011 especially in the energy sector. In 2012, FDI had doubled in relation to 2007. Australia ranks 10th in the classification Doing Business issued by the World Bank in relation to its business climate. In 2014, the government has suggested that the priority sectors for FDI influx should be: food-processing, energy, large infrastructures, tourism infrastructures and high-value added services.