It is a pleasure to see you again and I hope you are enjoying your visit. May it also welcome Laos and Myamnr to our discussions for the first time. At the same time, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome your senior officials and express our appreciation once more for the excellent working relations which have been established at all levels in the ASEAN-Australia dialogue. Our relationship over the years has been greatly strengthened by many lasting friendships which have contributed a great deal to the success of our work and the mutual respect we have developed for each other.
First of all, I would like to make a few general points.
From our ASEAN point of view, Australia is valued as an important regional partner and, for many of us, the bilateral relations we enjoy are extremely significant.
In any healthy relationship, however, there is always a need to review what the partners are doing and how they fetal about each other. The region we share is changing last and I think this annual meeting is becoming perhaps more important than ever in so far as it gives us an excellent chance to make sure we have the right environment In place to get the most out of our work together.
So, with this in mind, I feel that, for ASEAN members, what we have put in place together over the last few years is producing satisfactory results.
On our part, we feel that ASEAN is an attractive market. By this, I am not just referring to the fact that we now have 450 million consumers. As I am sure you will agree, what is more important than mere numbers is the quality of the investment climate that we are offering. The move that we have made to liberalism trade and the sound relations we have with our various partners are opening up solid trading opportunities.
We also have our sub-regional growth areas. They are developing well and we are encouraging outside interest in them as it is important for us to develop our peripheral areas. That is why, for example, we have been very pleased to see the Northern Territory involved in the Brunei-indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP- EAGA) and we would certainly welcome Australian interest in all our growth areas.
In terms of the effect of this on overall ASEAN trade to Australia, recent figures show that ASEAN trade to Australia in the last few years has nearly doubled. So we are quite happy with the progress. As I suggested earlier, what is essential is that we keep monitoring and strengthening our cooperation so that we all get the most out of our partnership.
In this respect, in terrms of Improving trade and investment flows, we are happy with the way our economic cooperation is going, especially as it has been reinforced through the AFTA-CER linkage.
Perhaps I could mention here one of the most pleasing aspects of our cooperation is the way we are managing to bring the private sector into the process. We want to continue efforts to bring government and private sector representatives together to promote trade and investment This keeps everyone up-to-date with developments and can do a lot to help us deal successfully with any problem areas.
For us in ASEAN, one of these vital areas is how to keep abreast withwith technological advances and, in this, as I mentioned last year, we much appreciate the valuable and generous assistance Australia has provided through the ASEAN Australia Economic Cooperation Programme. We are especially pleased that part of this has been devoted to science and technology cooperation, assisting our people in getting vital training and providing them with the necessary know-how.
In more specific terms, I have been informed that our people are very pleased with the progress of a number of projects under the projects stream, such as the project on coastal zone a environment and resources management and the telecommunications cooperation training project.
It is also good to see that the linkages stream which is also aimed at further promoting economic cooperation has provided opportunities for our private, academic, research and government sectors to undertake joint activities and is going well. These efforts, I believe, are doing much to satisfy immediate needs. However, ASEAN is also keen to do what it can to provide an impetus for wider regional development.
This is why we wish to promote cooperation in developing the Mekong Basin and am very pleased to see Australia’s interest. We much appreciate the substantial assistance that Australia has already been providing to the Mekong Basin countries where Australian companies have been involved in a number of projects.
Of course, ASEAN welcomes countries other than the core group participating in the projects, and we would also like to see regional and international institutions which are currently involved in the Mekong.
Basin taking part in the project. We are also keen to encourage private sector participation. Australia’s involvement will of course contribute to its successful implementation.
Also, in terms of our wider engagement in international affairs, it is good to see that ASEAN and Australia have been able to work successfully together in various international forums.
This is especially so in APEC, where we the facilitation process to liberalise trade in the region is proceeding well, along with the implementation of member economies’ Individual Action Plans (IAPs).
However, in ASEAN, we tend to feel that current emphasis is placed strongly on what could be termed purely economic objectives. We see an important need for a balanced result.
We see human resources development personal and community growth, the environment and good relations with our neighbours as being just as important as commercial competition. So, we would like to stress the importance of economic and technical cooperation as it constitutes an integral part of the process.
Personally, I see no conflict between the various approaches. They should complement each other. But it would be of interest to hear your views as we know that human and environmental issues are also very important matters to Australians.
Looking at other economic matters, we were pleased with the first results of the WTO conference in Singapore last year, especially the comprehensive work programme which was set out to ensure the implementation of the various Uruguay Round agreements. We hope that member countries will work towards the strengthening of multilateralism in the hope that the resulting certainly in the world trading system will bring tangible benefits to all.
On the subject of overall objectives, at this stage in our regional history, questions of stability and long term security are naturally very important indeed. We regard the support and active participation of regional partners as essential if we are to achieve the aims of the ASEAN Regional Forum, especially in our efforts to build and maintain trust and ensure peace and stability. To this and, Australia has always been positive and constructive and we welcome the contribution you are making to this process.
In Brunei Darussalam, we are looking forward to co-chairing one of the forum’s intersessional meetings with Australia.
Finally Mr. Co-chairman, as Brunei Darussalam relinquishes its role as country coordinator for the ASEAN – Australia dialogue, I think it Is only fitting that I take this opportunity to thank you for the support and friendship that you have extended to Brunei Darussalam over the past three years. Our officials have been working closely together and this has also contributed significantly to our bilateral relations. I have much enjoyed our working relationship and as Brunei Darussalam hands the task over to lndonesia, I am sure the dialogue will continue to develop well under the guidance of our Indonesian colleagues.