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Transcript of joint SAJMC [Singapore/Australia Joint Ministerial Committee] media conference: 28 July 2003



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E and OE

28 July 2003

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer

Joint SAJMC Media Conference

Mr Jayakumar and Mr Downer will first make some introductory remarks.

Mr Jayakumar: Ladies and gentleman of the Press first on behalf of Singapore Government and my colleagues Minister Teo Chee Hean, Raymond Lim let me welcome Alexander Downer, Minister Robert Hill and Mr Hockey to this SAJMC. The Singapore/Australia Joint Ministerial Committee Meeting held every two years is very important and in a sense unique because for Singapore it is the only forum we have where three Ministers from outside meet three Ministers from the Australian side. Australia-Singapore relations are excellent. They are underpinned by close economic co-operation, we have excellent defence co-operation and we also have a shared convergence of views on many important issues of security in the region. The purpose of the SAJMC is that although different Ministers meet each other frequently, the SAJMC gives us an opportunity to take stock of our bilateral relations and also an opportunity to discuss matters of mutual concern affecting Australia and Singapore, matters in the region as well as internationally. For example, we discussed terrorism which continues to be a problem that will be on our radar screens for a long time to come and both sides agree that we should maintain our vigilance and co-operation to combat terrorism. On bilateral co-operation, the theme of our SAJMC signals the essence of the discussions which is synergy of an enhanced partnership and in this context we export new ways to further strengthen our close network of co-operation, trade, defence, education and tourism and we hope to generate more synergy from this. Over the years we have close co-operation from our membership of the ASEAN regional forum and in that context and also in the context of Five Power Defence Arrangements, we have reviewed our close co-operation in the area of security and defence related matters. We also had a good discussion of the SARS outbreak in East Asia and the lessons we have learnt and how both sides could exchange views on this matter. In trade and investment co-operation, Singapore Australia Free Trade Agreement, SAFTA, which enters into force today and where we just now had the initialing ceremony to mark its entry into force, is a landmark agreement which will bring mutual benefits to both Australia and Singapore which re-affirms the close co-operation which Australia and Singapore have and we expect that it will also have a catalytic effect contributing to regional growth and prosperity. We believe that it will offer new opportunities to businesses for both countries, it will strengthen economic and political links between both sides and as well contribute to global trade liberalisation At our meeting just now, we also discussed ideas for co-operation in the area of tourism and we agreed to set up a joint tourism council which will enable us to share information and conduct research and promote our joint tourism market. We have noted that the bilateral trade and investment continues to grow, people to people links between our two countries have also grown extensively through tourism, education and such exchanges. In short, the SAJMC has highlighted the fact that Singapore and Australia enjoy excellent multi-faceted relations and this is something that we do not want to take for granted, we like to nuture it and find new ways to ensure it continues to grow in the future. With those opening remarks can I invite Alex Downer to say a few words.

Mr Downer: Well thank you Jaya, can I just say how pleased my colleagues and I are to be here in Singapore for the fourth meeting of the Singapore Australia Joint Ministerial Committee, it has been a very valuable and very full meeting for us and we’ve had an almost, what one could describe as almost as an identity of views on all of the major issues that we have discussed to take two or three points. Today is an historic day in Australia’s relationship with Singapore and with South-East Asia more generally as we bring into effect the Singapore Australia Free Trade Agreement, SAFTA, which will not only stimulate trade between Australia and Singapore, it will stimulate investment as well between our two countries. An important symbol of the very strong commitment that Australia has to engagement, not just with Singapore and the ASEAN region but South East Asia. Secondly, we’ve had a very good discussion about the issue of terrorism, or more to the point, counter-terrorism, the excellent co-operation between Australia and Singapore on counter-terrorism and we continue to span that co-operation as the months wear on. We also have a very close defence partnership and we are very happy, as things seem to be working very well. I’m very pleased that work is being done to build our tourism relationship. There are synergies between the Australian and Singaporean tourism industries, not only is Singapore the, I think, the fifth largest source of tourists coming directly to Australia, I am not sure where Australia stands by contrast in terms of Singapore but it must be also one of Singapore’s largest sources of tourism. But I think Australia and Singapore can work very closely together in building common approaches to tourists who visit Singapore and go on to Australia or reverse of the case as well, so that is why we are determined to work more closely together in the area of tourism. I just also want to mention our commitment to ensuring we work more closely together and we are looking at possible ways of expanding that co-operation. That will be made a lot easier of course through the establishment of a Singapore Australia Free Trade Agreement so we hope that possibly with even some institutional building, small or medium size enterprises. Finally, to thank very warmly our Singaporean hosts, an excellent two days, we had a very productive day yesterday us Foreign Ministers, didn’t we Jaya, we did very well and a very good evening last night, discussions and a very valuable meeting this morning.

Questions: Inaudible

Mr Downer: Well first of all on Free Trade Agreement, we are in the process of negotiating a Free Trade Agreement with Thailand and those negotiations are moving forward productively and quite successfully. We have established the Australia/New Zealand ASEAN closer economic partnership CEP and our view that in time it would be ideal if it could be converted into a Free Trade Agreement. I made the point that what follows a Free Trade Agreement is often a substantial increase in investment flows. The truth is that if ASEAN wants to encourage investment from Australia into ASEAN, the best way to do that is to build the trading relationship and to develop a Free Trade Agreement. But the traditional pattern of Australian investment is likely to remain, I mean Australia’s foreign investment into the United States and the United Kingdom is massively greater than Australia’s foreign direct investment into ASEAN but we don’t instruct our businesses where to invest, the more welcoming a region is to Australia and Australian investment, the more likely that investment is to flow. I think out of the Free Trade Agreement with Singapore a lot of investment in time will flow to Singapore because there is a message from Singapore that not only is Singapore a free and open market to Australia but it is a very welcoming market and a very welcoming environment and I think if ASEAN develops a Free Trade Agreement with Australia, that would encourage a great deal more Australian foreign direct investment into ASEAN. On The Philippines, I just say in relations to The Philippines that we are very obviously pleased that the crisis there has been diffused peacefully and swiftly. We are pleased the government of President Arroyo has been able to assert its authority over the rebels who have returned to the barracks. It is clearly able to confront a democratically elected and constitutionally elected government and our view about The Philippines is that The Philippines is one of those countries which is not

only a good and a close friend of Australia’s but it is in the front line of the war against terrorism. And a strong government in The Philippines with the determination and the resolve to fight terrorism is extraordinarily important not just for The Philippines but the region and we hope that this assertion of authority by President Arroyo and her government will ensure that there isn’t a repeat of the sort of mutiny that we saw yesterday. And we hope that from now on the government will more freely be able to pursue the objectives that it needs to pursue of its national interest more broadly, but also more narrowly in the war against terrorism.

I think I will adopt every thing that Alex Downer has said about the question and also Singapore’s views. You will recall yesterday Singapore issued a statement saying that the recourse to unconstitutional means by the rebels was unacceptable. The government of President Arroyo will be able to quickly restore order and this has happened and be resolved without bloodshed. What Alex Downer has said I fully associate myself with him.

Question: Inaudible.

Mr Downer: Well we are in the process of negotiating these air services arrangements and I understand that there will be a further round of discussions in September in Australia so our hope is that it will be possible to find a mutually acceptable outcome in these negotiations. There is enormous potential for co-operation between Australian airlines and Singapore airlines on the one hand, and secondly, I mentioned earlier this important question of tourism and the synergies between Singaporean and Australia, the Singaporean and Australian tourist industries and co-operation in the area of airlines and air services. This is going to be an important way in taking that forward. I might ask Mr Hockey if he could say something because he is the Tourism Minister who is an expert on this and something more generally about tourism.

Hockey - Not Transcribed.

Raymond Lim - Not Transcribed.

Journalist: Michael Dwyer from ABC Radio I have two questions for Mr Downer - firstly on the possibility of other free trade agreements with other ASEAN countries or with ASEAN itself what is Australia’s … and is it your intention to push hard on that - do you see this agreement as a way for Australia to (inaudible)

Mr Downer: I think I’d say two things about that first of all we have flagged to ASEAN on a number of occasions and will continue to do so, that we support a free trade agreement with ASEAN in principle and we regard it as desirable that ASEAN sit down and begin the process of negotiating such an agreement. I don’t think it’s a great secret when we negotiated the CEP with ASEAN we were disappointed that we were not able to take that further forward faster than we did. And I say this in the context of some debate in Australia about Australia negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States. It is quite wrong for those people who make an argument - and someone had an article in a newspaper today making this argument - to make an argument that Australia prefers to negotiate a free trade agreement with the United States and is doing so at the exclusion of Asia. On the contrary, we got into discussions about negotiating a FTA with ASEAN along time ago and we believe that we can benefit very much from a FTA with the United States, but we also believe we would benefit very substantially and so would ASEAN benefit very substantially from a FTA with ASEAN. And so I want to make it perfectly clear that as a long term objective we would really like a FTA with ASEAN but it has to be said that one or two of the ASEAN countries didn’t want, at the

time of the Closer Economic Partnership being negotiated, to take the process as far as negotiating a free trade agreement but my point is that I think that the Free Trade Agreement we have negotiated with Singapore and the FTA we are negotiating with Thailand and the United States should be a catalyst for ASEAN to start negotiating more broadly FTAs with Australia because I think its very much in ASEAN’s interest as it is in our interest.

ENDS