Media release from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

D12 / 26 July 2002

White Paper on Foreign and Trade Policy - Statement by DFAT Secretary

I am profoundly disappointed that Geoffrey Barker has chosen in his article "PM dumps Asia for US alliance" (Australian Financial Review, 26 July, page 1) to seriously misrepresent a briefing departmental colleagues and I gave yesterday on the Government's proposed White Paper on Foreign and Trade Policy.

The briefing certainly made clear that the current draft version underlines the pre-eminence of the United States in world affairs and the great importance to Australia of the United States in both strategic and economic terms. The United States has been Australia's most important strategic partner for many years and recently passed Japan as our number-one trading partner if services are included. These simple facts should be accepted as given reference points in any informed discussion of Australian foreign policy.

The overall importance of Australia's relationship with the United States has been acknowledged many times in public statements by the Government.

Where Geoffrey Barker totally distorts the briefing is in suggesting that this marks a historic shift away from Asia. The briefing put considerable emphasis on the point that Australia does not have to chose between close links with Asia, on the one hand, and with the United States, on the other, as though we are somehow caught in a zero-sum game. We went to great lengths to underline the high priority accorded to Asia in current policy including the new trade and economic agreements we are seeking with Japan and China, the Free Trade Agreements we are negotiating with Singapore and Thailand, and close engagement with Indonesia including collaboration in combating people smuggling. We underlined that Asia accounts for 57 per cent of Australia's total merchandise exports, and as a region is Australia's biggest trade partner. We flagged too that the current draft chapter on Asia, placed ahead of those dealing with the United States and other partners, included the formulation that "close engagement with Asia is an abiding priority in Australian external policy". We also made the point Australia's close relations with the United States and Asia are mutually reinforcing in so many areas.

The key point about all this is the need to take a mature view of Australian external policy. Australia has important relationships all around the world and especially in the Asia-Pacific region. The purpose of foreign and trade policy is to maximise our interests in each one of these relationships. An advance in any one relationship does not have to be at the expense of the others.

Finally, yesterday's briefing made clear that Ministers have so far approved only an outline of the White Paper and detailed drafts will be considered carefully by them in the coming months. 

Media inquiries: Chris Decure 02 6261 3412