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[The 1998-99 Budget confirms the Government's commitment to active foreign and trade policies tightly focussed on Australia's national interests

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The 1998-99 Budget confirms the Government's commitment to active foreign and trade policies tightly focused on Australia's national interests.

The Budget preserves funding levels for the three principal agencies within the portfolio, the Department o f Foreign Affairs and Trade, AusAID and Austrade. In addition, new funding o f $46 million over four years is provided to support Australian interests in the Asia Pacific amUaeyond, to implement the portfolio's Olympics related activities and to fund Australia's

assessed contribution to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

The new funding is contained in the following Budget Measures:

. $8.1 million over two years for AusAID to establish a "Youth Ambassadors for Development" program. The program will be augmented by funds from within the aid budget, resulting in a two-year $10 million initiative. The program will enable about 500 young Australians to live and work in the Asia Pacific on important development

activities, transferring useful skills and knowledge. This will help meet developing countries' requirement for training and technical assistance, provide young Australians with valuable overseas work experiences, and will encourage closer links between the Australian community and regional countries. -

. $10 million over four years for export market development and promotion activities aimed at expanding Australia’s market access in the Asia Pacific and beyond. This will include funding to support Australia’s effort towards the Early Voluntary Sectoral Liberalisation agenda in APEC where Australia has significant commercial interests in liberalisation o f 15 sectors worth over US$800 billion in intra-APEC trade.

v $4.2 million over three years for an Olympic Media and Public Affairs program and a Visitor Information Campaign program, and to establish a Business Club Australia to support international business people visiting Sydney for the Olympics. This builds on the funding of $8.7 million allocated in the 1997-98 Budget for the portfolio's Olympics programs in the years leading to the Games. The Olympics proposals are intended to ensure that full advantage is taken o f the international business opportunities for Australia arising from the Games.

. $1.6 million per year ongoing funding for Australia's assessed contribution for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). Australia is universally recognised as a key player in the adoption o f the CTBT. The CTBT will

first and foremost serve Australia's security interests: it is a solid barrier to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and brings the nuclear arms race to a definitive end.

. $16.4 million over four years is provided to Austrade for ongoing replacement of its information technology hardware. This will maintain Austrade's capacity to provide the highest quality export facilitation and promotion services to existing and potential Australian exporters.

. $1 million over four years for an automotive market access facilitator to pursue market access issues in multilateral, regional and bilateral forums. Funding for the facilitator is provided as part of the $20 million allocated for the Automotive Market Access and Development Strategy.

In 1998-99 the Australian Government will provide $1,480 million in Official Development Assistance (ODA). This results in an ODA/GNP ratio of 0.27 per cent, placing Australia above the latest average o f OECD donor countries o f 0.25 per cent.

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Tfie*1998-99 aid budget gives effect to the new directions for the aid program encapsulated in Better Aid fo r a Better Future, the Government's response to the Simons review o f the aid program completed in 1997. The 1998-99 aid budget will help ensure a stable and prosperous future for Australia by responding to urgent development needs in the Asia Pacific region and elsewhere, building strategic partnerships and focusing assistance on

agreed high priority sectors such as governance, health and education. It also addresses the key development challenges facing our region - the East Asian financial crisis and the impact o f the El Nino phenomenon. The continued growth and prosperity o f the region is in

our national interest. In particular, growth in developing countries expands Australia’s trade and investment opportunities, creates jobs and improves living standards.

In addition, as part o f the core portfolio function o f assisting and protecting the interests o f Australians overseas, the Government will continue to expand and develop Australia’s global network of Honorary Consuls. Since coming to office, the Government has enlarged that network from 27 to 37 posts and in 1997-98 agreed to the establishment o f a further 12 posts. This expansion extends the reach of Australian overseas representation in the vital

area o f consular services.

This Budget underlines the Government’s commitment to promoting Australia’s national interests as set out in the White Paper on foreign and trade policy and the Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement.