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Joint communique Alexander Downer; kathy Sullivan; David Brownhill; Berenado Vunibobo

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The Fourth Australia-Fiji Ministerial Talks were held at Mount Lofty House in Adelaide on Thursday, 18 December. The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Alexander Downer, led the Australian delegation, which included Mrs Kathy Sullivan, Parliamentarv SecretarvToT FofeidfrAffarrs! and Senator David Brownhill,

Parliamentary Secretary for Trade. The Hon. Berenado Vunibobo, Fiji Minister for Foreign Affairs and External Trade, led the Fiji delegation. The Ministerial Talks were followed by consultations with industry representatives about the potential to strengthen the comprehensive commercial relationship Australia has with Fiji.

Ministers agreed that 1997 has been a very productive year for the Australia/Fiji bilateral relationship, with a number of major highlights:

• a threshold of a new and positive era in bilateral trade and the economic relationship has been reached; .

• Fiji opened in Canberra its first purpose-built chancery in the world;

• Fiji President, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, conducted two very successful visits to Australia;

• In August, Mr Downer visited Fiji for the second time in just eight months;

• Australia actively supported Fiji’s readmission to the Commonwealth following the passing by its Parliament of Fiji’s new constitution.

Mr Downer congratulated Fiji Prime Minister Rabuka and Opposition Leader, Jai Ram Reddy, for the leadership and courage they had shown in creating the environment which facilitated the successful passage of the revised Constitution and the subsequent readmission of Fiji to the Commonwealth. He noted these were important steps in the process of building intercommunal confidence. Mr Downer said he looked forward to the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader continuing to cooperate in actively promoting public understanding of the benefits of the changes. It was agreed that such developments had contributed significantly to improvements in Fiji’s economic climate and had boosted business confidence in Fiji.

Ministers noted progress by officials in taking forward the consultation process agreed at the Ministerial Talks held in Fiji in December 1996 on the future framework for bilateral trade and economic relations. Ministers agreed to the framework for the

conclusion of an overarching bilateral trade and economic relations Agreement and agreed that the Agreement would be signed in June 1998.


Ministers noted that such an agreement would draw together the various elements both Governments consider important in diversifying and developing the bilateral trade and economic relationship. It would act as an umbrella under which a range of bilateral economic and trade activities and measures could be undertaken which would support the strengthening of the bilateral trade and commercial relationship, and add to Fiji’s sustainable economic growth.

Ministers agreed that a bilateral trade and economic relations agreement should be forward looking and reflect the long term outcomes of economic liberalisation in our region flowing from both APEC and WTO activities, bearing in mind the special concerns of small island states. It would be consistent with principles of the FEMM Action Plan as endorsed by Forum Leaders at Rarotonga. The conclusion of a

Bilateral Trade and Economic Relations Agreement between Australia and Fiji would send a very positive signal to both countries’ business communities about the importance the Australian and Fiji Governments attach to the significant existing bilateral economic and commercial relationship and its potential for development. Ministers agreed to take the necessary steps in accordance with each Government’s own procedures to obtain approval to commence negotiations on a text for a bilateral treaty.

Ministers agreed to develop a framework on further joint action to combat child sexual abuse and other serious crimes. This framework would formalise and strengthen existing co-operation between relevant Australian and Fiji agencies within the domestic laws of both countries.

Mr Downer said the Australian Government is strongly committed to the nations of the Pacific in providing development assistance, and has maintained funding levels at a time when other programs have had to be reduced. The Fiji bilateral program is Australia's largest after PNG in the Pacific region and has been supplemented this year and last by significant levels of funding through Australia's regional Policy and

Management Reform program.

Ministers exchanged views on regional issues such as the outcomes of the Rarotonga Forum and the first Forum Economic Ministers Meeting held in Cairns. It was agreed that both countries had a leadership role to play in progressing the regional reform agenda of the Pacific. In particular, Fiji thanked Australia for its efforts in hosting a most successful South Pacific Commission Meeting in Canberra last October which canvassed initiatives to enhance the provision of technical assistance to the Pacific islands countries and territories.

Ministers acknowledged the importance of diversity to the effectiveness of the Cairns Group in its work on agricultural trade, and the importance of Fiji's continued membership to ensure its agricultural development needs were addressed and to

provide a united voice in progressing global reform in agriculture.

Ministers agreed they would meet again in Fiji in the fourth quarter of 1998.