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Australia: A Trading Nation


Anita Forsyth and SOSESAV

Audience: Lower and middle secondary

Purpose: This unit examines the nature and importance of trade to the Australian economy. Students investigate why this is an important economic issue for the Australian nation as we head into the 21st century.

Links to Curriculum:

SOSE Level 5, Economy and Society Strand, especially outcome 5.3: Explain key factors that influence the Australian Economy – indicator: Examine the nature and importance of trade to the Australian economy.

Discovering Democracy links

Discovering Democracy through Research


Author: Anita Forsyth

Unit title – Australia: A Trading Nation

Secondary focus

Discovering democracy materials used – This unit uses the approach outlined in ‘Discovering Democracy Through Research’. Students will be required to complete a number of tasks which will encompass some aspect related to using an investigative approach. Active citizenship begins in the classroom. Teaching and learning which encourages student participation, investigation, decision-making and enterprise equips students with skills to be active citizens.

Links to local curriculum – Curriculum and Standards Framework II, Studies of Society and Environment Key Learning Area, Level 5 Economy and Society Strand, Outcome 5.3 Explain key factors that influence the Australian Economy – indicator: Examine the nature and importance of trade to the Australian economy.

Description of Unit

This unit examines the nature and importance of trade to the Australian economy. It is an important economic issue in the Australian economy which sheds light on the Australian nation – what sort of nation as we head into the 21st century.


A glance at our daily newspapers would leave the reader in no doubt about the significance of economic issues in our daily lives. The principles of economics bear directly on our lives, affecting people in their roles as consumers, savers, investors, producers, workers, voters and citizens. A better understanding of economics and the way our Australian economy works enables our students to better understand the forces that affect them every day and that will affect in the 21st century.

Of course just teaching about economics issues, problems and policies is not enough to achieve more active citizenship. Teaching about economics through inquiry, research, investigation and participation will develop skills and attitudes that help students identify and evaluate the consequences of private decision and public policies.

This unit will develop important global citizenship understandings as they learn about global economic, technological, social and political issues and their interdependence.

Key questions

  • What sorts of goods and services does Australia export and import?

  • Who are Australia’s main trading partners?

  • How has the composition and direction of Australia’s trade changed in recent years?

  • How important is trade for Australia’s economic growth and development?

  • What is the policy of ‘free trade’ and how does it work?

  • What are some arguments for and against opening markets/free trade?

  • What is happening in Australia today?

  • What makes businesses successful exporting businesses?

Main suggested research activities

  • Searching out and analysing relevant primary and secondary resources

  • Undertaking Internet research

  • Developing and conducting surveys

  • Developing propositions about the Australian economy and reviewing these propositions against the data

  • Reporting on issues of current economic importance which help understand the Australian nation – what sort of nation?


Students will

  • Explore the reasons why nations trade with each other

  • Examine data on Australia’s exports and imports

  • Identify Australia’s main trading partners

  • Assess the importance of international trade for Australia’s economy

  • Explain the policy of ‘free trade’

  • Discuss the costs and benefits of free trade

  • Discover how trade can make a country wealthy

  • Develop an understanding of reasons why businesses become successful exporters.

Task 1 - Create a Context

This is a ‘warm-up’ task to allow students to develop an awareness of Australia’s external relationships.

Task Duration – 2-3 periods

  1. Students will survey goods used at home over the last week and classify these goods into domestically produced or foreign-made goods (imports).

  2. Students display the data gathered by compiling data into charts, tables and graphs.

  3. Students will develop maps to show flow of products to their home.

  4. Students to analyse their data.

  5. Discuss reasons why some goods were produced/sourced overseas. Could Australian made goods have been used instead?

  6. Ask students to speculate about the ‘family’ economy if it had to be self-sufficient Students to write a brief response which outlines how different life would be!

  7. Examine data collected by students and discuss which parts of the world seem to supply our needs for imported products

  8. Discuss what kind of relationship exists between our community and the rest of the world.

  9. Discuss reasons why nations trade.

Investigating current issues on the trade agenda for Australia

Nations engage in trade to improve their living standards. When a country sells goods or services overseas, it generates income. How important are exports for Australia’s continued economic growth and development? How important are exports for Australian jobs?

Task 2 – Visual Display

Task Duration: 3-4 periods

Students examine data on Australia’s main imports, exports and trading partners. Using the statistical data, students to prepare a visual display that represents Australia’s trading patterns over the last 10 years. The display could include the following

  • Tables/graphs and pie charts showing Australia’s imports, exports and main trading partners 10 years ago compared to current position

  • List imports in order of importance – 10 years ago and now

  • List exports in order of importance – 10 years ago and now

  • List main trading partners in order of importance – 10 years ago and now

  • Annotations to identify and explain any changes observed

  • Conclusions about Australia’s main types of exports and imports

  • Comments about the changing image of Australian exports and the broadening of Australia’s traditional export base

  • Predictions about the sorts of exports and imports Australia will trade and where Australia’s future trade prospects lie.

  • Discussion notes ‘old’ versus ‘new’ economy in relation to Australia



  • Australian Bureau of Statistics at

  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at Statistical data and reports such as ‘From Sheep’s Back to Cyberspace’ March 2001

  • Reserve bank of Australia at


Russell Ives, et al (2000) SOSE Commerce, Jacaranda: Melbourne, 2nd edition pp172-4, 192-200

Jeremy Loftus-Hills (2001) Middle School Commerce – E-textbook for CSF II, Loftus-Hills Consulting: Melbourne

Task 3 – Investigation and Report

Task Duration: 4 periods

The Australian government has a policy of ‘opening markets’, which means actively encouraging free trade. This means removing trade barriers that discourage the ‘free’ flow of goods and services between economies. Many believe that free trade is a way of increasing Australia’s economic growth and prosperity. Others are against free trade and say we need to keep some trade barriers to ‘protect’ local industries and employment.

Students are to conduct an investigation which

  • Explains what is meant by the policy of free trade or ‘open markets’

  • Explains how the policy works

  • Examines main arguments for and against ‘open markets’

  • Discusses what is happening in Australia today

  • Assesses Australia’s trading future




Ives ibid. pp 194-96

Loftus-Hills ibid. Topics 14-17


‘Opening Markets – Does it Benefit Australia/’ in Studies of Society and Environment, No. 3, 2000, Ryebuck Media Pty. Ltd. Melbourne and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Task 4 Groupwork - Students work in small teams and complete either task a) or task b)

Task Duration: 4 periods

  1. Brainstorm the sorts of characteristics or attributes you think would be necessary for a business to be successful at exporting. Identify and list the characteristics or attributes of successful exporter businesses that are outlined on the Department of Foreign Affairs web-site at where case studies of successful businesses are showcased. There are also some case studies to be found in the following textbooks

  • A Forsyth and J Mackenzie-Jesser (1998) Making Economic Decisions, Macmillan: Melbourne, Chapter 4

  • A Forsyth and J Mackenzie-Jesser (1994) The Ordinary Business of Life, Oxford University Press: Melbourne pp. 14-20

Create a brochure for potential Australian exporters that provides advice on how to become a successful exporter.


b) Select or invent a product and develop a strategy for exporting this product to a country of your choice. Use the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade web-site at section on ‘Services to Businesses’ to help you.

On completion of either task a) or b) the groups are to present the results of their work to the class.

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