Jaclyn Symes MP - travel report - United States of America, 1 - 11 December 2019

MinisterMs Jaclyn Symes MP

Minister for Regional Development
Minister for Agriculture
Minister for Resources

Countries visitedUnited States of America
Date of travel1 to 11 December 2019 (inclusive)
No. of official travel days
(including day of departure and day of return)
Number of accompanying ministerial staff1
Accompanied by spouse in an official capacityNo
Funding for the overseas trip was paid by (list department/s or agency)Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions
Air fares (including taxes and fees)$35,607*
Accommodation (including taxes and fees)$10,796*
Other expenses (includes surface travel and travel allowances)$11,003*
Travel cost for minister and staff$57,406*

*The above costs are not final and complete

Purpose of travel

The primary purpose of my official travel to San Francisco, New York and Boston, United States of America (USA) was to undertake a series of meetings related to my Agriculture, Regional Development and Resources portfolios; further develop the strong trade and investment relationship between the USA and Victoria; strengthen bilateral relations with key stakeholders in the AgTech sector; and promote the Victorian Government's 'Digital Agriculture Strategy' that bolsters digital innovation in agriculture.

Additionally, I met with a range of industry and government leaders across multiple sectors to:

  • further support the delivery of the Victorian Government's 'Industry Development Plan: Developing a Medicinal Cannabis Industry in Victoria 2018-21'
  • showcase Victoria's unique and world-class food and wine as part of the Victorian Government's $5 million 'Wine to the World' initiative and the $10 million 'Taking Our Local Produce to the World' program
  • promote the Victorian Government's 'Global Table' event
  • promote the 'Melbourne Food and Wine Festival', which is entering its 28th year in 2020
  • showcase Melbourne as a major events city
  • learn about regional economic development and tourism growth strategies
  • attract investment into Victoria’s timber plantation industry to make the best use of the $110 million the government has set aside to support investment.

Benefits of travel to the State of Victoria

The USA is the largest source of foreign direct investment into Victoria and there are leading North American companies in the technology, biotechnology and medicinal cannabis industries with a strong presence in Victoria. The USA is also an important and growing merchandise trading partner for Victoria. Over the past six years, the value of merchandise exports from Victoria to the USA has grown strongly from $1.6 billion in 2012-13 to more than $4.5 billion in 2018-19. Victoria now leads all other states in Australia as the largest exporter to the USA, rising from third to first in the same period.

My travel strengthened Victoria's successful engagement in the USA, as well as allowing me to support the state's agricultural sector and regional Victoria.

San Francisco

I met with executives from the Western Growers Centre for Innovation and Technology and Taylor Farms. These meetings provided opportunities to support Victorian AgTech companies exporting or operating in the horticulture sector. Following this, I met with the Partners of Finistere Ventures, where I showcased Victoria's capabilities in the AgTech sector and reinforced Victoria as a location for the company to establish an office in Australia.

A meeting with SVG Ventures-THRIVE allowed me to present Victoria's AgTech value proposition to one of the world's leading AgTech investors and innovation drivers. The meeting provided an opportunity to discuss recent AgTech developments in North America and Victoria, as well as opportunities for collaboration and investment in Victoria.

SVG Ventures-THRIVE is a leading global Agrifood innovation and investment platform based in Silicon Valley that accelerates, invests and works with entrepreneurs, investors and Fortune 500 companies. It also partners with Forbes to deliver America's leading 'Forbes AgTech Summit'. This meeting led to the creation of the 'THRIVE Australia Challenge' (see next section).

Under my Regional Development portfolio, a meeting with the Sonoma County Economic Development Board and the Executive Director of Sonoma County Tourism provided an opportunity to understand how regional centres in California successfully led local economic development and marketed and promoted their communities. I was briefed on 'Sonoma's Regional Economic Development Plan' and different approaches to grow regional tourism, including a rounded tourism experience integrating outdoor adventures, breweries, distilleries and Agritourism.

I also met with key stakeholders, participants and research organisations in the medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp sectors in California, including representatives from the California Department of Food and Agriculture. I gained an understanding of the areas for potential expansion of the sector in Victoria and the comparative regulatory environment between our two jurisdictions.

New York

I visited Aero Farms to observe their vertical indoor farm technology and met with the company's leadership team. The opportunity allowed me to promote Victoria as a suitable location for Aero Farms' first facility in Australia, and showcased Victoria's strength in design, engineering and digital technology.

I met with the Chief Executive Officer and leadership team of 'Women Deliver', a global advocate for gender equality and the rights and wellbeing of girls and women. Held every three years, the 'Women Deliver Conference' is the world's largest event championing the empowerment of women. Melbourne has been shortlisted as one of three cities to potentially host the 2022 conference. The meeting enabled me to showcase Melbourne as a major event city and the Victorian Government's commitment to becoming a host city and progressing gender equality and women's empowerment. The four-day conference is estimated to attract upwards of 5000 delegates from around the world to the successful host city.

My visit also allowed me to support the Victorian Government's 'Wine to the World' and 'Taking Our Local Produce to the World' election commitments to develop export opportunities for the Victorian food and wine industry. I hosted an event in New York showcasing Victoria's leading wine and food producers and exporters to stakeholders across New York, including industry media, restaurateurs, wine and food buyers. In addition, I promoted the 'Melbourne Food and Wine Festival' and 'Global Table' along with our tourism offering.


I had productive meetings with executives from Global Forest Partners and Hancock Natural Resource Group. I informed both companies of the 'Victorian Forestry Plan' that has been developed to assist workers, businesses and communities as the forestry industry transitions away from native forest harvesting to a plantation-based industry. The discussions explored the companies' appetite for expanding operations and factors influencing investment into Victoria.

I also toured Ginkgo Bioworks' state-of-the-art biotechnology manufacturing facility and met with the company's Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Executive Officer. Ginkgo have a $250 million fund to create ventures with corporate partners in the AgTech, FoodTech, BioTech, chemicals and mining sectors. I advocated for Victoria as Australia's leading state for food manufacturing, medical technologies and pharmaceutical partnership opportunities.

Next Steps / Follow Up

The Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR) and the Victorian Government Trade and Investment (VGTI) offices in the Americas will continue investment and project discussions with companies visited to develop the opportunities and outcomes identified during my official travel.

Asia-Pacific's largest Agrifood technology event, 'evokeAG', was held in Melbourne from 18 to 19 February 2020. Following my meetings with USA companies from the sector, invitations to 'evokeAG' were extended to Finistere Ventures, Western Growers, Taylor Farms, SVG Ventures-THRIVE and Aero Farms. Both Finistere Ventures and SVG Ventures-THRIVE attended and had senior representatives speak at the event.

During my meeting with SVG Ventures-THRIVE, I was able to secure the inaugural 'THRIVE Australia Challenge'. Held on 13 February 2020, I officially opened the 'THRIVE Australia Challenge', which was a collaboration between CSIRO, the Victorian Government, LaunchVic and SVG Ventures-THRIVE. The 'THRIVE Australia Challenge' is a competitive event for AgTech start-ups to pitch their business ideas to a live audience and international judges. This provided an opportunity for early stage Victorian AgTech start-ups to pitch to USA and Australia-based investors for funding or admission to the Silicon Valley 'THRIVE Accelerator Program'.

The event was attended by approximately 90 participants in the AgTech and agricultural sector, including start-ups, tech companies and investment firms. Nine start-ups pitched at the event, of which four were Victorian, and winners were selected by a panel of judges comprising representatives of SVG Ventures-THRIVE, CSIRO and Agriculture Victoria Research. The Victorian Government sponsored the prize for the winning Victorian start-up to attend the '2020 THRIVE AgTech Accelerator Program' based in the USA and this was awarded to Hive Keepers. DiagamiRs was also a Victorian winner of the 'THRIVE Australia Challenge'.

In addition, following my USA meeting with SVG Ventures-THRIVE, they announced their entry into the Australian market with a view to establishing a headquarters in Melbourne. The company will identify, invest in and accelerate the business growth of promising AgTech start-ups in Victoria.

The VGTI in Boston is progressing potential research and development partnerships with Ginkgo Bioworks and Victorian companies in the AgTech, BioTech, mining, chemical and FoodTech sectors.

Following the New York food and wine showcase, several Victorian food exporters identified wholesale export opportunities in the USA.

Page last updated: 21 July 2020