Howard Arrives In Frankfurt; Says Free Trade More Important Than Foreign Aid

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has arrived in Frankfurt, Germany on the first leg of his two-week European trip.

This is the transcript of his doorstop interview upon arrival in Frankfurt.

Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s doorstop interview in Frankfurt.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what are the sort of things you will be discussing with the European Central Banker today?

PRIME MINISTER:

Obviously the economic state of the Euro area, the success of the Euro. Importantly where he thinks European and World interest rates are going. And I’ll also talk to him about some of the economic formulae that have been successful in Australia.

JOURNALIST:

In general Mr Howard, what message do you want to impart to the Europeans on trade?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the message I want to give is that Australia is a strong, expanding, very economically successful country that is outperforming most nations of the developed world as far as growth is concerned, but remains profoundly unhappy about trade arrangements and that a nation that wants to see the new trade round, the new World Trade Organisation trade round, coming out of the Doha talks taken seriously by the major economic constellations of the world. That of course is the European Union and the United States. Doha won’t work if the Americans and the Europeans are not serious about it. It will work if both of those economic constellations are serious, and that will be a message that I will be putting very strongly. But we won’t only be talking about agriculture. Agriculture is a key issue but it is a relationship that is broader than agriculture. You have got to remember that bilaterally Australia has very strong economic relationships, obviously with the United Kingdom, but also with Germany.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, will you be asking the Europeans for their views on the impact of confidence in the US as a result of the Enron and WorldCom collapses?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I wouldn’t be thinking that this is a place for me to sort of seek running commentaries from the Europeans. They normally give them anyway and I mean, look everybody is concerned about what has happened. I think what has occurred with Enron and the other corporate implosions is a wake-up call to the corporate regulators everywhere. But in the process of waking up, let’s not suffocate business with over-regulation. Sometimes you can overreact in these things.

JOURNALIST:

Just summing up, what do you hope to achieve with the next two weeks in Europe?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I certainly hope to put as strongly as any Australian Prime Minister can, the imperative we see in the European Union taking the next series of trade talks very seriously. Not only for our own sake as far as agriculture is concerned, but that is very important. But in the long run, unless we can do something about these major trading barriers, unless we can start going in the right direction, even if it is a bit hesitant at first, the developing world is going to remain just exactly where it is at the present time. It does seem to me to be ironic that we can have the wealthy nations of the world talking about increasing direct foreign aid, yet a reduction in trade barriers would by multiples of three or four, do more to help the developing world than increases in foreign aid.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, will you be passing on the condolences of Australia regarding the soccer?

PRIME MINISTER:

I extend my sympathy obviously to the German team. As the Prime Minister of a nation who didn’t quite qualify, I mean all these things are fairly relative. But it has been a great sporting festival and it hasn’t produced some of the hooliganism and so forth which people predicted, and I think that is a real plus for soccer. I hope it does something for the sport in Australia. I hope it provides an impetus for a higher national profile. As you all know, there are more young Australians under the age of 15 play soccer than any other football code including AFL, which is a fact a lot of Australians don’t understand. So it has got a huge following. But then I follow a lot of sports as you all know and I will certainly be back in time for the Bledisloe Cup.

JOURNALIST:

To go back to Glenn’s earlier question, do you believe that the regime of business regulation in Australia is adequate to protect investors, or do you think it needs some adjustment?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m not aware of any inadequacies in it at present. I’m not. But when something like what has occurred in the United States occur, you naturally look again. But there are some features of our audit and regulatory systems that are tighter than those of the United States. So my message is that we will look carefully to see if there are any direct lessons. I don’t believe that our system is full of loopholes or inadequate. And I don’t want an overreaction because you have got to give business air to breathe and room to move.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] raise immigration at all?

PRIME MINISTER:

I won’t be raising immigration. I will deal with that on an if asked basis. Obviously I’m quite happy to explain the Government’s position on asylum seekers and to point out that we have been a very successful ethnically diverse nation that has taken people from everywhere. But I haven’t come over here to say, look how clever and how good we are at this. Certainly not. If somebody asks me, I’ll explain and defend without yielding a centimetre.

JOURNALIST:

Do you take heart from some of the actions and attitudes that have been expressed?

PRIME MINISTER:

Heart is probably the wrong word Jim, but it certainly confirms my belief that what Australia has done is eminently reasonable and proper and justifiable. And the response of other countries indicates that we understood Australian public opinion and Australia’s need better than some of our critics thought.

JOURNALIST:

How worried are you that agriculture might get pushed off the world trade agenda?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t believe that is feasible. I think if it goes off altogether, then you just don’t have a serious world trade round. I think that is accepted. And I’m encouraged that some of the signals are that the European Union itself… European Unions, I’m sorry, internal examination of the common agricultural policy proposes rather more radical reform of that policy than is advocated by many of the member states. Now I haven’t come here to sort of give lectures on domestic politics to European Governments. That is not my role. I will talk about their policies to the extent that they affect Australia, which is my role. But as to what they do internally, that is entirely a matter for the Governments of these countries.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you said earlier though that there were some things that the Europeans were interested in where perhaps they could learn from Australia. What are those areas?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t know that I said that, did I?

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] say something along the lines of…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, no I think it’s…

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] economy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I didn’t put it… they’re your words, they’re not mine. No look, no well… I haven’t come here in the context of saying, you know, people can learn from us. I mean, I will deal with Australia’s strengths quite naturally. I will talk about the strength of the Australian economy tonight at the major business address I’m giving and to Deutsche Bank gathering in Berlin. Of course I will talk about the strength of our economy unashamedly, but this is not some kind of economic beauty parade. It’s a serious engagement with the governments of countries that are very important to Australia. This is the first Prime Ministerial visit to Germany since 1995. It’s the first Prime Ministerial visit, I understand, to Frankfurt which is the financial capital of Germany, since the mid 80s. And it is a long time since we’ve had bilateral visits to Greece and Italy. So these are important relationships in their own right and they should be the subject of care of attention from whoever the Australian Prime Minister may be. Thank you.

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