A RELATIVELY small drop in exports was a highlight in an otherwise gloomy report into the June quarter from the Australian Chamber-Westpac Survey of Industrial Trends.

The report showed conditions in Australian manufacturing were the lowest they had been since the survey was founded 54 years ago.

The survey’s Actual Composite Index, which indicates business confidence, fell to 24 in the June quarter, the lowest measured since 1966. The index fell from 45 in March and 53 in December 2019.

But exports showed cause for hope.

Australian Chamber chief executive James Pearson said the relatively slight drop in exports, down by net 6% compared with being up net +1 per cent in March, was a reminder of the importance of businesses remaining internationally competitive.

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“With 86% of respondents reporting no change in their level of exports, it is great news to hear this market remained relatively strong,” Mr Pearson said.

“We need to play to our strengths and make it even easier for Australian firms to trade with the world,” he said.

Commenting on the report as a whole, Mr Pearson said the survey showed the COVID-19 global pandemic and measures to combat the virus had had a dramatic impact on manufacturing.

“The historic low underlines the need to help get businesses back on their feet and people back into jobs as soon as it is safe to do so,” he said.

Westpac senior economist Andrew Hanlan said weakness was evident across several sub–components.

“The pandemic, and the resulting downturn, has had some significant impacts across the sector,” he said.

Mr Pearson said he welcomed the federal government’s focus on a business-led recovery. “Industrial relations reform, greater investment in skills, tax reform and deregulation can help make manufacturing and other industries more competitive,” he said.

The full report can be viewed on the Australian Chamber website.

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