Opening Statement
Mr Alexander, Downer MP,
Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs

It is a pleasure to be here in Manila participating in the 31st ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference. This is my third PMC and I welcome the opportunity it offers to exchange views with our neighbours and friends.

Globalisation has delivered enormous benefits to the international community, particularly to those of us in the Asia Pacific region. But globalisation also has costs and imposes responsibilities. A broad range of transnational problems have presented challenges to all of us over the past year – not just the regional economic crisis, but also haze pollution, transnational crime and HIV AIDS. The answer is not to turn our backs on the international community and disengage. Instead we need to continue to work together for mutual benefit, just as we did in times of prosperity and growth, to find solutions for our collective problems. These solutions won’t be identical, as each country has its own characteristics and needs, but we can learn a great deal from each other. ASEAN provides an important forum for this cooperation to take place. Regional organisations have a pivotal role in promoting regional solidarity and security which are critical in today’s uncertainty. We are confident that ASEAN’s tradition of creativity, flexibility and resilience will enable it to successfully meet the challenges now before it and the region.

Regional Economic Crisis

The economic strengths that made East Asia highly attractive to global investors over the past two decades have not suddenly vanished. These strengths include a high savings rate, vibrant business community and substantial infrastructure. They also include a skilled workforce, with great entrepreneurial flair. Restoration of confidence is a key element in the sustained recovery of the region. It is Australia’s view that the key elements in restoring confidence include responsible domestic policies, effective regional cooperation particularly through ASEAN and APEC, and the implementation of IMF assistance packages. It is important that countries hold their nerve during this period, as failure to implement necessary reform will prolong the crisis.

At the same time, we are aware of the profound social costs of the current crisis-particularly amongst the most vulnerable in society including women, children, migrant workers and the urban poor. Australia has encouraged international financial institutions to take into account the particular characteristics and need of individual countries when designing assistance packages. We have also implemented a range of development assistance measures aimed at supporting countries to address the social impact of the crisis, as well as to assist in the Process of Structural reform that is needed for economic recovery to take place.

Globalisation has ensured that few countries have been immune from the fallout. Australia is no exception. Our exports to the region have fallen and our economic growth forecasts have been revised. Nevertheless our economic fundamentals remain sound and Australia remains committed to continuing structural reform and trade liberalisation aimed at the most productive and outward-looking economy possible. This is the Policy approach we are advocating to others implicated in the crisis. While Our reform program will not be identical to those developed for other Countries, we believe we, can learn from each other how to most effectively deal with current difficulties.

Regional and International Economic Developments

Regional cooperation is a vital part of achieving practical solutions for current difficulties and allowing the economic strength in the Asia Pacific to flourish again. We believe the current economic crisis makes such efforts even more pressing.

The aim of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), when it was created by ASEAN leaders in 1992, was to liberalise trade, create a more integrated regional market and attract increased investment. These regional economic integration objectives remain important. Australia encourages ASEAN members to fully implement commitments made under AFTA on a MFN basis. Australia also welcomes the decision by ASEAN to relax entry requirements for foreign firms to participate in ASEAN Industrial Co-operation (AICO). These measures will send a positive signal to the international financial community about the region’s commitment to trade liberalisation contributing to a return of positive investor sentiment in the region. We look forward to discussion at this forum about the ASEAN Investment Area (AIA) concept, which was announced in 1995.

Australia has a strong commitment to regional development efforts and we encourage other countries to also consider greater involvement in these efforts. Australia has had productive involvement in the development of the Mekong Basin and maintains a strong commitment to the region. Despite the current difficult economic climate, we remain interested in participating in ASEAN’s Mekong Basin Development Cooperation (AMBDC) initiative, including possible membership of the MBDC core group as it is expanded to include donors. On ASEAN sub-regional growth areas, the Australian Government and private sector are working in partnership with ASEAN states involved in the Brunei – Indonesia – Malaysia – Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area, (BIMP-EAGA). The Northern Territory Government and private sector have participated in BIMP-EAGA through Working groups, their Business Council and Business Forums and Expos. We appreciate the cooperation given by BIMP-EAGA members in developing these partnerships with Australian states and companies, and would like to see it extend into other sub-regional growth areas in ASEAN.

International Political Issues and Transnational Concerns

The haze pollution which drifted across much of South East Asia late last year – even affecting parts of Australia’s Northern Territory – is a clear demonstration that problems of this nature do not respect national boundaries, Australia responded promptly to the haze crisis with a range of emergency and capacity building measures totalling more than A$ 2 million. We now see the priority shifting to a strengthening of national and regional policy commitments to achieve longer-term solutions. This will focus especially on more appropriate national land and forest management policies as well as developing fire and haze mitigation capacity. We consider broader policy issue are best pursued at the regional level to promote a coordinated approach.

Australia has supported the work to date on developing an international convention against transnational organised crime. Australia has a strong commitment to combat money laundering and has launched a ‘Tough on Drugs’ strategy which has provided $A1 million to the Asia-Pacific group on Money Laundering (APG) Secretariat. We have passed regulations to assist in recovering proceeds of crime where there has been an offence committed overseas, giving effect to Australia’s obligations under the Money Laundering Convention. As part of the Government’s “Tough on Drugs” strategy, additional resources of $A21 million (over four year) has been provided to Australia’s national Crime Authority to target transnational organised crime.

Australia is committed to contributing to regional and international efforts to combat narcotic drug trafficking. At the recent LN Special Session on Drugs I announced an initiative called “Safe Borders, Safe Streets”. The strategy is designed to enhance the security of both borders and streets by concentrating on supply and health treatment. The strategy focuses at three levels – enforcement, eradication and education. Australia is willing to work closely with ASEAN and other Dialogue Partners to realise the noble goal of a “Drug Free ASEAN”.

Threats to peace and stability, particularly nuclear testing by India and Pakistan in defiance of international non-proliferation norms – deserve the condemnation of the international community. Australia’s response to the nuclear tests has been firm and unequivocal – we oppose nuclear testing by any state anywhere. It is on this basis we have strongly opposed India and Pakistan’s decision to conduct nuclear tests. We have called on both countries to do their utmost to mitigate the threat which their actions pose to the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime by implementing the requirements of Security Council resolution 1172 without delay.

Beyond our region, the international community is concerned about a number of country situations where considerable work needs to be done to maintain or restore peace and prosperity for all their people. In Bosnia, Australia is closely monitoring progress towards the elections scheduled for this September, as they are an important element in maintaining Bosnia’s fragile peace. In Kosovo, we am greatly disturbed by the serious escalation of violence in recent weeks and urge all parties to the conflict to exercise restraint. Negotiations on peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have stalled since the suspension of talks late last year. Australia continues to call on both sides to recommit themselves to finding ways to get negotiations back on track and to avoid unilateral actions which could affect the peace talks.