Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Keating Sharpens Australia's Focus on Asia-Pacific Trade

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Keating Sharpens Australia's Focus on Asia-Pacific Trade

Article excerpt

UNDER the newly reelected Labor government of Prime Minister Paul Keating, Australia can expect a renewed effort to hitch the country's economic wagon to the raring economies of the Asia-Pacific region.

In his March 13 victory speech, Mr. Keating said, "Australia, for the first time in our history, {is} located in the region of the fastest growth in the world, we're set up now as we've never been set up before ... to be in it, to exploit it, to be part of it."

"Being part of it" has been a theme of Keating's since he started his first term 16 months ago. During his trip to Japan in October, Keating said Australia would side with Japan if a trade war developed between Japan and the United States.

Just before the election, Foreign Minister Gareth Evans announced a $60 million package of new measures designed to boost the integration of Australia's economy with the Asia-Pacific region. Among those measures are the proposed formation of the Asian Economic Centre, the first government think tank on the region, and a web of both formal and informal business networks.

In his recent Cabinet reshuffle, Keating established a greater focus on trade issues by moving the minister for trade into the inner Cabinet. And he created a whole new trade-oriented Ministry of Development Cooperation and Pacific Island Affairs.

Observers say there has never been such a trade focus before in Australia's government.

Keating is also helping push the idea for a formal framework within the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) council to build a foundation for an integrated market across the Asia-Pacific region. Trade with Asia is nothing new. Australia's first trade office was not in London, but Shanghai in the 1930s. More than 60 percent of Australian exports go to APEC countries. And despite the recession, manufacturing exports to the region have been increasing 16 percent a year.

"Economically, reality is somewhat ahead of the perception," says Alan Oxley, a trade consultant. …

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