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Transcript of media briefing at the APEC Ministerial Meeting in Kuala Lumpur, on November 15 1998 [regional financial crisis; Indonesia; Early Voluntary Sectoral Liberalisation; Bogor Declaration goals]



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TRANSCRIPT OF MEDIA BRIEFING GIVEN BY THE HON ALEXANDER DOWNER. MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, AT TUE APEC MINISTERIAL MEETING IN KUALA LUMPUR, ON NOVEMBER 15 1998.

 

Mr Downer:

 

Well, the discussion this morning has focused very much on the regional financial crisis. The Australian Government is arguing that APEC needs to take a four pillars approach. First of all APEC needs to recommit itself to the Bogor goals of free trade and investment by 2010 and 2020. Secondly, APEC needs to make sure that there is an appropriate strategy for economic growth in those economies where it’s needed, the stimulation of economic activity. The third pillar is to improve the quality of economic governance, and we have put forward a specific proposal on economic governance and finally APEC does need to address the structure of the international financial system, with a particular focus on, for example, the hedge funds and the degree of transparency there is with hedge funds and the leveraging by those hedge funds. So I think on these sorts of issues there is a good emerging consensus. Although, of course, Mr Fischer’s spoken already about EVSL, I won’t add anything to that. Work is still being done on that particular issue.

 

Q:

 

Is Australia concerned about the situation in Indonesia, and is there a concern that that could spark more unrest, such as what we saw yesterday here in Malaysia?

 

Mr Downer:

 

Well, we are concerned about the situation in Indonesia. The riots and demonstrations yesterday were very serious. The situation in Jakarta, I’m advised, at the moment is quiet but from previous experience we know that there can be considerable activity during the course of the afternoon. Usually demonstrations develop as the day goes on, and quieten down when the night comes. We very much hope, whilst people should have the right to demonstrate and express their views, that everybody in Indonesia will act with appropriate restraint. It’s clear that there is great concern about some people in the military not acting with appropriate constraint yesterday and that has obviously exacerbated the political problems in Indonesia. We very much hope that the situation will calm down now and Jakarta can get back to normal.

 

Q:

 

Do you have any travel advice for Australians who are in Indonesia at the moment?

 

Mr Downer:

 

Well, there is something like 7,000 Australians who are registered with the Australian Embassy, excluding Australians in Bali. There may be more than 7,000 Australians altogether in non-Bali Indonesia, but there are about 7,000 who are registered with the Australian Embassy and those people obviously must be extremely cautious moving around Jakarta because the situation there remains tense. But we very much hope, I can’t make any predictions, but we very much hope the situation will calm down.

 

Q:

 

Mr Downer there have been many distractions at this APEC meeting. How have they diffused the focus of this meeting?

 

Mr Downer:

 

What the demonstrations in Jakarta? There hasn’t been my discussion that I have heard about the demonstrations in Jakarta, in the context of this meeting, so I’m not sure about that. But I mean personally, I’ve had discussions with Indonesian ministers about it, but it hasn’t been a focus of plenary discussion.

 

Q:

 

Secretary Albright intended to discuss Iraq at the opening of the Ministerial Meeting, can you tell us what that conversation was like? Did the US have much support for its position?

 

Mr Downer:

 

It’s a bit indiscreet of me I suppose to say too much about the Secretary of State in statements, she can do that herself. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me saying that she did, at the beginning of her statement on the regional financial crisis, say a little about the situation in relation to Iraq. There was no discussion about it by any other of the delegations.

 

Q:

 

Will you be meeting Dr Wan Azizah while you’re here?

 

Mr Downer:

 

Well, I don’t really have anything much to add to what I said yesterday. She has now expressed some interest in meeting someone from the Australian delegation. Whatever we decide to do it won’t be a media circus but I haven’t really got anything to add to what I said yesterday.

 

Q:

 

So it’s still under consideration?

 

Q:

 

Mr Downer, are you concerned that the events in Jakarta, combined now with the events between United States and Iraq, and the fact that President Clinton won’t be attending, will just give momentum to the push against trade liberalisation here at APEC.

 

Mr Downer:

 

Well, I think that’s drawing an extremely long bow if I may say so, I don’t think it will. The sense of the meeting here is clearly a continuing commitment to trade liberalisation. And despite the differences that there obviously are over Early Voluntary Sectoral Liberalisation, and you’re familiar with all of those differences, but that isn’t to say people are saying they’re going to walk away from trade liberalisation, or there is a sense that people are walking away from the Bogor Declaration goals. There isn’t any sense of that, and indeed delegation after delegation is talking about the continuation of the liberalisation of the regional, as well as their domestic economies. There really is only an argument here about pace, there’s not an argument about direction and I do think it’s very important that is understood. We, of course, are a country that would like to move faster than say, at the other end of the spectrum, Japan, which wants to move, in a couple of sectors, very slowly. But it is an argument about pace, it’s not an argument about direction.

 

Q:

 

So you don’t accept that the fact that Mr Clinton won’t be here wilt undermine your efforts to bring Japan into that group of countries...

 

Mr Downer:

 

Well, I can only really say it’s understandable that President Clinton isn’t coming, given the crisis that he has to confront over Iraq. I mean the United States still want proper confirmation from the Iraqis, which they’re not satisfied yet that they have got proper confirmation from the Iraqis that the resumption of UNSCOM and IEA inspections are unconditional and therefore the situation remains somewhat tense and there’s a discussion going on at this moment in the United Nations Security Council, I understand, that is what could be described in a diplomatic euphemism as a lively discussion. So the issue is unfolding, and it is understandable in that environment that the President of the United States would want to stay at his desk. Of course, we would have been delighted to have him here but it is understandable that he has had to stay behind.

 

Q:

 

(inaudible)...Bogor enough for this APEC meeting?

 

Mr Downer:

 

Well, you know what our position is. Our position is that we want to see real progress on those nine sectors for Early Voluntary Sectoral Liberalisation, so for us that is the best outcome. And there will, I think, be some evolution of the position on EVSL, but it’ll be some sort of compromise I suspect, so it’ll be more than a re-statement of Bogor, but

 

Q:

 

(inaudible).. .said that last week that if Japan did not sign on to all nine sectors, that the APEC meeting would be considered a failure and that the US would tell the whole world that Japan is responsible for that, is that language a little harsh? If seven sectors get up instead of nine, does that make it a failure?

 

Mr Downer:

 

Well you understand diplomacy, I mean obviously the United States was maximising the pressure on Japan in the lead-up to this meeting. Let’s just see what comes out of the meeting.

 

 

KD