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Visit to Pakistan: boosting bilateral ties

During my visit to Pakistan I have held talks with senior government figures, including the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Commerce Minister, Finance Minister and the Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources. My visit reflects the priority we attach to developing a stronger and more diverse relationship with Pakistan and builds on the positive outcomes of the Government's Year of South Asia initiative and recent high level visits including by Mr Fischer in April and by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr Kanju, to Australia in August 1997.

1998 marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and Pakistan. During this visit I have been pleased to open formally the new Australian High Commission Chancery building in Islamabad. Our strong and growing official Australian representation in Pakistan will be further strengthened by the opening of an Honorary Consulate in Karachi which I will inaugurate today.

My discussions with Pakistan Ministers reflected the growing substance in bilateral relations, in which the commercial relationship is becoming an increasingly important element. Australian exports to Pakistan now approach $500 million annually and Australian investment is in the order of $300 million, with strong prospects for substantial growth. I signed an Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement which will facilitate this growth. I was also pleased to sign an Air Services Agreement which will give our airlines the opportunity to operate services between Australia and Pakistan.

The Australian business presence is growing strongly as demonstrated by the establishment of the Australia-Pakistan Business Forum in Karachi which I will launch on Monday.

Australia is committed to helping Pakistan pursue its development objectives. I have announced the provision of 10 new postgraduate scholarships for students from Pakistan and an Australia-UNDP-Pakistan joint-funded $6.4 million project (of which Australia is contributing $4.2 million) involving the Rehabilitation of Saline Lands in the Punjab. Australia will also provide technical assistance to Pakistan for a review of its Board of Investment and Pakistan's foreign investment environment.

Yesterday I visited Preshawar to observe a demining demonstration by UN authorities. Australia continues to contribute to the international humanitarian assistance effort for Afghanistan and I am pleased that we will be making a further contribution of $500,000 in funding for de-mining in Afghanistan.