Your Royal Highness,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of my ASEAN Colleagues, I wish to extend our warm welcome to Your Excellency and to the distinguished members of your delegation to this annual session of the Post Ministerial Conferences (PMC) between ASEAN and Australia.
When we began to work as the Country Coordinator of the ASEAN-Australia Dialogue in 1997 we had high expectations about working with Australia in promoting stability and security as well as development cooperation in the region. Today I can say that our expectations have been met. This Dialogue has indeed contributed to the stability and social and economic progress of the region.
When we met last year in Manila, Southeast Asia was in the midst of a financial crisis so severe that it strained the economic and political resilience of the members of ASEAN. We responded to the crisis in various ways. At the national level, individual members took measures to overcome the crisis, primarily through reform and restructuring of the economic, social and political system. At the bilateral level, members, in the true ASEAN spirit, came to the aid of their fellow members, often in the form of humanitarian assistance.
At the regional level and as an Association, we responded to the crisis by strengthening our solidarity and accelerating the pace of our economic integration through the achievement of AFTA and the ASEAN Investment Area. We established a surveillance process for keeping track of macroeconomic indicators and capital flows as an early warning system to prevent the recurrence of the crisis. We have taken steps toward greater use of ASEAN currencies for intra-ASEAN trade. We adopted a comprehensive and detailed medium-term action programme that would bring us toward the achievement of ASEAN Vision 2020. We adopted a set of Bold Measures to immediately attract investments.
At the international level, ASEAN pursued a vigorous advocacy for reform in the international monetary and financial system and called on our partners in the developed world, including the members of the G-8, to keep their markets open to Southeast Asian exports and to maintain trade financing for them.
A few weeks ago, Cambodia formally joined ASEAN, completing the ASEAN family. With all ten Southeast Asian Countries within the ASEAN fold, we are now in the best position to take economic, social and political initiatives that effectively respond to present and future challenges, including the challenges posed by this persistent crisis. Thus we will continue to work for regional stability and security, to deepen our economic integration, to strengthen our cooperation in helping vulnerable groups, in promoting health and education, in science and technology, and in environmental protection. In pursuing these initiatives, we shall be guided by the roadmap to the year 2020 that was laid down by the Sixth Summit in Hanoi last December, the Hanoi Plan of Action.
The Hanoi Plan of Action also prescribes that we intensify our cooperation with our Dialogue Partners and with other regional organizations. In this regard, we feel that we need to bolster the AFTA-CER linkage so that both sides can take advantage of the numerous trade and investment opportunities between them. For this to be possible, both,sides should make policy adjustments that will build bridges and remove obstacles between them. As a Dialogue Partner of ASEAN and as a member of both CER and APEC, Australia can help create an atmosphere that is more conducive to the growth of the AFTA-CER linkage. Moreover, ASEAN and Australia can help each other develop mutually beneficial activities that can be carried out in the framework of the AFTA-CER linkage.
Deeply concerned as we are about the stability and security of the Asia-Pacific region, we are thankful that although the impact of the Asian crisis has been devastating in the financial and economic sphere, it has had no severe effect on the region’s political and security landscape. The network of treaties, agreements, arrangements and processes for cooperation in the region, many of them established by ASEAN, has held us firmly together in the face of the crisis.
In this regard, Australia has played an important role as a close partner of ASEAN in the building of that network. One of ASEAN’s first Dialogue Partners, Australia is an active participant in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the PMC process. We hope that Australia will continue to support the idea and implementation of the ASEAN Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) and Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (SEANWFZ).
Australia is the fourteenth largest economy in the world and the fifth largest among APEC members, after the United States, Japan, the Republic of Korea and China. We look forward to significant growth in ASEAN’s trade and economic relations with Australia in the next century. We also look forward to greater cooperation with Australia within the framework of APEC in an international effort to address the roots of this crisis so that we may be able to overcome it altogether and ensure against its recurrence. Likewise, in the framework of the WTO, particularly at its next ministerial meeting, we can work together in calling for a review of the implementation of the WTO agreements and to ensure the eventual achievement of a rule-based international trading system.
We are pleased to note positive trends in the Growth Areas and sub-regional development schemes in which Australia has been participating. It is in these endeavours that the geographic closeness and the complementarities between Australia and ASEAN can be most effectively availed of, especially if our private sectors play their expected pivotal role.
We still see development cooperation as an integral part of Dialogue Relations. The ASEAN-Australia Economic Cooperation Programme (AAECP) has been an important aspect of the ASEAN-Australia relationship at least for the last three decades. This collaborative development programme has been very successful in making ASEAN institutions and the people of ASEAN in general aware of the activities in the ASEAN- Australia Dialogue relations.
Since the AAECP was established in 1974, it has promoted cooperation between Australia and ASEAN in priority areas of regional development. At present, 90 percent of the projects under this programme have been completed. The Energy Policy and Biomass Projects are ongoing. We are happy to note that the AAECP has been reviewed with a view to enhancing cooperation between Australia and ASEAN.
We deeply appreciate the commitment of the Australian Government to the establishment of a fourth phase in the cooperation programme in which all the ten ASEAN members will be included. We keenly took forward to the implementation of this new phase in our Dialogue Relations which will be named the ASEAN-Australia Development Cooperation Programme (AADCP) to reflect its wider coverage. Consisting of high impact projects, it will adhere to the priorities of both ASEAN and Australia and to the guidance of the Hanoi Plan of Action.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I should like to express ASEAN’s appreciation and gratitude to Australia for its positive contribution to the development of our region through its active participation in the political, economic and development cooperation programmes.
My colleagues and I are optimistic that our deliberations today will again be fruitful and will strengthen the bonds of friendship between Australia and ASEAN.