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Transcript of doorstop interview: Electorate office, Adelaide: 5 November 1998: Japan

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Mr Downer: I’ve had a very good session with the

Japanese Foreign Minister. He was formerly the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, so I know him quite well from my dealings with Japan from over the last couple of years. We together are announcing today that Japan is now going to give Australians visa free entry into Japan. This measure will come into force from 1 December this year. This is in

response to Australia introducing the electronic travel authority system in Japan. We’ve been able to negotiate a reciprocal arrangement that since the Japanese can get to Australia through the electronic travel authority system without having to go to the Embassy and get a visa, the Japanese are prepared to allow Australians to visit Japan visa free. This

is a good and convenient initiative for Australians. It does obviously facilitate their travel.

Otherwise we have had a very good opportunity to re-enforce the geopolitical importance of the relationship between Australia and Japan. We work very closely together on many regional economic and political issues and we’ve talked at great length about those. Obviously some of the conversation has focused on the upcoming APEC meeting. We’re very pleased that Japan is giving strong support to our economic

governance initiative, which the Prime Minister will be promoting at APEC. We are now getting very solid support from around the region for that initiative. I raised with the Japanese Foreign Minister our commitment to taking the trade liberalisation agenda forward in particular

in the nine sectors identified in Vancouver for early voluntary sectorial liberalisation. Japan remains still unwilling to make further concessions in the two areas of fisheries and forestry and we will just continue with other countries to argue that it is important that Japan make concessions in those two areas. They say that the effective tariff rates for fisheries and forestry in Japan are fairly low already, but of course there are non-tariff barriers as well and that they are prepared to make


considerable concessions in the other seven areas that are identified for early voluntary sectorial liberalisation. They of course emphasised the initiative is voluntary as the name suggests, not mandatory. Nevertheless, we think it is important that we get Japan to make further concessions in this area and we will continue to argue that case. We’ve

been having that argument with Korea and Korea has made some additional concessions in the area, I think, of fisheries. So we’ll be doing what we can with a number of other countries to continue to argue our corner on that issue.

Question: Was there any sign from Japan of

movement on that issue and if it doesn’t open up those markets then what impact will that have on the trade liberalisation agenda ?

Mr Downer: Well there wasn’t any sign at this meeting

that they are prepared to make further concessions, but we will continue to argue right up to and during the APEC meeting for further concessions from Japan on this area. Of course the real risk is that you might find some other country saying that we have areas of sensitivity as well and if you are prepared to make an exception for Japan, why not make an

exception for us in some other area? That’s why we want the approach to be a comprehensive approach to include all nine sectors. So we will obviously continue to argue that case. The Japanese have said, not that they are unprepared ever to make any concessions on fisheries and forestry, the Japanese Foreign Minister made it clear to me that they are

prepared to look at making further concessions on fisheries and forestry in the WTO context. Of course we have yet to get to the point where there is broad agreement on the consensus on a new multilateral round of trade negotiations. That may happen, but it’s yet to be finalised. And

it is in that context that Japan is talking about the concessions.

Question: (inaudible) ?

Mr Downer: Well look there are three aspects to the

APEC agenda simplifying it. There are quite a few more than three, but there are three really fundamental aspects to the APEC agenda this time. We and the Japanese essentially agree on them, there is just that one component of the trade liberalisation agenda we don’t agree on. We

agree that the APEC meeting is a good opportunity for leaders to continue to move forward the debate on international financial architecture. We agree and I didn’t know what their position would be before today, but we agree that the Australian initiative on economic

governance should be taken forward and Japan is giving strong support to that, and I’m delighted about that. We agree that the momentum of



the trade liberalisation agenda needs to be maintained. But we don’t agree on the specific issues of forestry and fisheries at the moment, so as I’ve said we will just continue to argue our corner. I’m not getting into widespread speculation about that. I think in all of these international

negotiations, where you have a couple of different positions, it is important to hold your position and to argue your case forcefully.

Question: (inaudible) expressed some frustration

today, do you share any of that sense of frustration ?

Mr Downer: Well I, look I don’t know that I want to get

into too many adjectives, I think the important thing to say is that we will continue to argue our case. We have still a little time before the meeting, there are other countries which are supporting us in this campaign. Not least of course the United States. And we would rather that the initiative

on forestry and fisheries was taken forward as part of the nine sectors in APEC than leave it to the WTO, that is our preference.

Question: There is a two year (inaudible) ?

Mr Downer: Thats’ right, assuming that it happens, and

we obviously fervently hope that it does. It will be a so called millennium round.

Question: Did Japan make any new initiatives to

reopen Australian waters to the tuna fishing fleets ?

Mr Downer: We agreed that there would be discussions

beginning on the 9th November between Australian and Japanese officials on Southern Blue Fin Tuna. And we hope coming out of those a path forward can be agreed. I made the point to the Japanese that this proposal of theirs to an experimental fishing program of around, I think

it’s one thousand tonnes added to the quota of around six thousand tonnes for Southern Blue Fin Tuna was excessive and as you well know Australia hasn’t agreed to that. And if they were to stick just with the overall quota figure of around six thousand tonnes and include in the

experimental fishing numbers that six thousand quota, well that would be fine by us, but they certainly don’t at this stage appear to want to do that, and so the thing to do is to get these talks underway on the 9th of November. You know that this is of course an important issue for both

Australia and Japan but it is not an issue that we can allow to derail a fundamental important relationship, like the relationship between Australia and Japan. And so we have got to find ways of managing the issue and we are finding ways of managing it.


Question : Mr Downer with regard to Iraq, do you

believe the latest standoff will be resolved or do you think this will go right to the brink ?

Mr Downer: I hope it will be resolved fairly quickly.

Frankly I think there is at this stage great uncertainty about how that resolution will take place. I mean Saddam Hussein not only has shown the desire to flaunt the United Nations Security Council Resolutions and he has done that before, but he has shown a desire to ignore an

agreement that he and his government struck with the Secretary-General of the United Nations. And you know I think in the end he is a President of Iraq who is involved in an unfortunate political game, which we think is profoundly serious. It is not a game, but he sees it as some sort of a

political game.

Question: So is it time for the international community

to get tougher with Iraq ?

Mr Downer: Well, the international community is already tough with Iraq. You have got to remember that there is a very comprehensive range of sanctions that have been applied to Iraq. Iraq

has no chance of getting those sanctions lifted for as long as it continues to thumb its nose at the international community. Whether there will be other measures taken or not, it is a bit to early to speak of.

Question : (inaudible) require again military force to be

assembled and if so would Australia support that ?

Mr Downer: Well the United States is saying that they’re

keeping all of their options open at the moment. We think that the United States position is entirely understandable. Beyond that we are not getting into any speculation.

Question : (inaudible) do you see a chance for stability

for the United States (inaudible) ?

Mr Downer: Well, it’s not really my role, as the Prime

Minister made clear as to his role during the debate in the election campaign, to get into too much analysis of these issues. I note the election results and I note where the Democrats came and this shows that the American people are more interested in policy issues than they

are in continuing with the Monica Lewinsky scandal. I note that the Republicans claim that this is only the second time since the Civil War that the Republicans have on three consecutive occasions managed to secure a majority in both houses. So they see it as a victory as well. But



look, what is Australia’s interests ? Australia’s interest is that the United States continues to focus on issues important to us, such as the resolution of the Asian economic crisis. The need to improve international financial architecture and to continue to play its fundamentally important role in international relations as a country that

can help to preserve peace. Be it in Kosovo, or the Balkans generally, be it in the Middle East, be it in Iraq, be it in the Asia Pacific region. I mean they for us, are the important things and the Lewinsky issue has never been a big issue for this government.

Question : What is Australia going to do to help the

people of Nicaragua ?

Mr Downer: I meant to say something about Central

America generally and Hurricane Mitch. Can I just say that first of all we regard this as a profound tragedy. And we express our heartfelt concerns to the people of Central America who have been so brutally hit by this hurricane. The United Nations is assessing at the moment, not only the damage, but the needs of the peoples of Central America and then there will be a pitch made by the United Nations to donors and we’ll

have a look as to what is required. At this stage of course we don’t precisely know what is required. But I am sure the international community generally will respond positively to the cries of help coming from Central America at this time.

Question : Is AusAID looking at it ?

Mr Downer: Well we will look at it once the United

Nations has finished its assessment. We have had some preliminary discussions about it, but of course at this stage we’re not quite sure of what is needed and depending on what is needed what contribution we could make.

Question : When you are in Malaysia at the end of next

week, will you take the opportunity of meeting Anwar Ibrahims’s family ?

Mr Downer: Well, we haven’t looked at that to be honest

with you. Such a proposal hasn’t been given any consideration yet by the Government, we’ll have to look at that.

Question : Do you think it would be an appropriate

gesture ?


Mr Downer: Well I’d like to have a think about that, I

don’t really want to commit myself one way or the other.

Question: Did it come up in talks today with Japan, the

political situation in Japan and Anwar Ibrahim ?

Mr Downer: Ah yes of course.

Question : In what context ?

Mr Downer: We had a broad discussion about quite a lot

of regional issues, about Indonesia, about Malaysia and so on. You can’t ignore the fact that what is happening in Malaysia is a significant issue. It’s an issue which is a great interest to the Asia-Pacific region as a

whole. Every government in the region is devoting a bit of time to seeing how this issue in Malaysia is going to unfold. Obviously countries like Malaysia and Australia have one constant view about this and that is that

the trial that is taking place needs to be a free and a fair trial. We very much hope that it will be.

Question : Any concern that it will derail APEC ?

Mr Downer: I don’t think it will derail APEC, no.