Australia's Foreign Policy Priorities: Ashton Calvert Discusses Australia's Place in the International System and Its Relations with New Zealand in Light of the White Paper on Australia's Foreign and Trade Policy Released in February 2003

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Throughout its history as an independent country, Australia has been actively involved in international affairs both within and beyond the Asia-Pacific region to which we belong. This is a natural consequence of the outward-looking nature of Australian society. We have strong links and close affinities with Europe and North America, a long history of active political, military and economic involvement in Asian affairs, and a vibrant economy which is deeply enmeshed in the international flow of trade and finance. Every year Australians make more than three million visits overseas and we welcome to our country annually around five million foreign visitors.

A brief summary of Australia's key interests and relationships will demonstrate amply the diversified and global nature of Australia's international involvement.

In Australia's external policy, close engagement with the countries of Asia is an abiding priority. Asian countries account for seven of our ten largest export markets and are simultaneously important sources of investment, major security partners and a growing source of skilled migrants. Three of Australia's biggest embassies are located in Tokyo, Beijing and Jakarta. Japan has been Australia's largest export market for many years and is a valued diplomatic partner. It is our second biggest two-way trading partner overall. China is Australia's third largest two-way trading partner and an increasingly important interlocutor on a range of regional and international issues. Indonesia and the countries of South-east Asia have a natural focus in Australia's foreign policy. At the same time, Australia's most important defence and intelligence ties are with the United States, with which we share cultural similarities and values. If goods and services are counted together, the United States is now our largest two-way trading partner.

Given US pre-eminence in world strategic and economic affairs, the importance to Australia of these already very strong ties with the United States is likely to grow. And that prospect explains the priority that the Australian government has given to concluding a free trade agreement with the United States. Australia's contemporary relationship with the United Kingdom is also strong and vibrant. Apart from close historical and people-to-people ties, Britain is our fourth biggest two-way trading partner and a key defence and intelligence ally.

Close links

More broadly, Australia has close economic and people-to-people links with most countries of Europe. Considered as a single entity, the European Union is Australia's largest two-way trading partner and our second largest investment partner. We have shared formative parts of our history with the peoples of Europe, the United States, Canada, and of course New Zealand. These experiences remain assets in our international relations. Maintaining a productive interplay between these two things--close engagement with Asia, on the one hand, and the basic Western make-up of Australian society and its institutions and our wider international associations, on the other--lies at the heart of our foreign policy. Managed well, this interplay is a strength, not a zero-sum game. Our links with Asia and the other parts of the world are mutually reinforcing.

It is also worth noting that the diversity and spread of Australia's international interests are further underlined by

* the important relationships we are developing in the Middle East, which over the past five years has been our fastest-growing regional market;

* our longstanding ties with the South Pacific;

* the considerable interests we share with Latin American countries, particularly with regard to trade liberalisation and the activities of the Cairns Group.

One of the main sources of increasing confidence about Australia's place in the international system is our country's relatively strong performance in an era of globalisation of the world economy. …