Australia and the United States - A Vital Friendship
May 29, 1996
This is the text of a speech given by Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, to the Australian Centre for American Studies, in Sydney.
I am very pleased to accept the Australian Centre for American
Studies' invitation to speak about the Government's approach to
Australia-United States relations.
Since the Centre was launched by President Bush in January 1992,
it has been an invaluable asset in the Australia-United States
In a letter to the US diplomatic representative in 1908 which
foreshadowed an invitation to the American Great White Fleet', former
Australian Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, wrote `...I doubt whether
any two peoples are to be found who are in nearer touch with each
other or likely to benefit more by anything that tends to knit their
relations more closely.' Deakin was ahead of his time. He not only
recognised the US Navy's future importance to the Pacific region's
security, but also rightly assessed the enduring value of Australia
and the United States forging a close relationship.
Recently, US Secretary of State Warren Christopher described the
Australia-United States relationship as 'one of the most formidable,
impressive cooperative relationships in the world'. I have no
difficulty in agreeing with that assessment. Our countries interact
and cooperate in a truly astounding array of areas and overwhelmingly
that contact involves working together to achieve shared objectives,
globally and in our region.
A Tradition of Shared Values
The range of contacts between Australia and the United States are
based on an understanding that we have strong shared values and
substantial trade, security and political interests. I will look at
these shared interests and the way in which they shape our
relationship with the US bilaterally, the region and in relation to
the global agenda later in my speech.
But first I want to discuss those values which provide the core of
our relationship. From the very first, Australia and the United
States shared similar federal constitutional experiences and a sense
of shared destiny as young, vigorous democracies. Over time, we have
forged a strong commitment together to shared political and social
values such as liberal democracy, freedom and basic human rights. We
have demonstrated a shared commitment to the goals of world peace and
stability, and to the institutions of the post War period such as the
United Nations and the WTO in seeking to achieve those goals.
These shared values provide the foundation for cooperation at all
levels - not only in the context of our bilateral relationship, but
on a global and regional scale as well. They inform our shared
interests and underpin the belief that our peoples should stand
together to uphold core values and principles.
The Bilateral Relationship
That great President and foreign policy realist Theodore Roosevelt
once said that Australia and the United States were the warmest of
friends. I agree with the depth of his sentiment and the cool-eyed
realism with which he viewed our relationship. Australia's
relationship with the US clearly reflects a realistic assessment on
both sides of overwhelming mutual interests and shared benefits which
As Australia expands its trade and security links with new
partners in the region, the bilateral importance of the United States
to Australia takes on new significance for both countries.
Trade and Investment
Despite fundamental changes in our trading profile in recent years,
Australia's commercial relationship with the United States has
remained one of our most important trading relationships. The figures
speak for themselves. The United States is Australia's second largest
trading partner. Merchandise trade alone was worth more than $21
billion in 1995.
The United States is a key export market for Australia. It is an
important destination for Australian goods as varied as beef and
motor vehicle parts, bauxite and office equipment. It has remained a
major destination for our traditional agricultural exports. At the
same time, the US has become Australia's second largest market for
our fast growing exports of elaborately transformed manufactures.
The United States is also Australia's largest investment partner -
both our largest source of foreign investment and as the single
largest recipient of Australian investment.
The lions share of US investment in Australia has been in the
manufacturing sector, an area of our economy which has undergone
substantial change over the last decade.
Several major US companies, all of which will be well known to you
have chosen Australia as their regional headquarters. They include
IBM, Coca Cola, American Express, Amdahl and Phillip Morris. These
regional headquarters in Australia bring substantial employment, new
ideas and technologies, and export benefits to the Australian
economy, knitting together Australia, the US and East Asia.
Australian investors are increasingly successful in perhaps the
world's most competitive investment market. Not surprisingly, many of
Australia's largest companies have established a strong presence in
the US. Among them are household names such as BHP, CRA, CSR, AMCOR,
Westfield and News Corporation.
The trade and investment relationship with the United States
offers considerable promise for Australia. It must be acknowledged,
however, that the bilateral balance of trade has tilted significantly
in favour of the United States in recent years.
Part of the reason for this is the relatively low level of
complementarity between Australia's export mix and the US's import
requirements. Furthermore, Australian exports of some products have
switched to new, more profitable markets elsewhere, particularly in
But as a nation Australia should be seeking to export to as many
markets as possible. That points to a need to tackle vigorously the
domestic impediments to our export performance, an objective to which
the Government is firmly committed. Industrial relations reform,
responsible fiscal policies, microeconomic reform and an activist and
creative trade policy are all key components in our approach. They
are all necessary if Australia is to address squarely the constraints
to Australia's longer term export capacity and the Government is
determined to see them through.
Of course, there are areas - in the sugar, beef and dairy sectors,
for instance - where Australian access to the US market are severely
limited by US barriers. And our serious concerns with US agricultural
export subsidies are well-known.
My colleague, the Minister for Trade Tim Fischer, will soon be
releasing a major review of the Australia-US trade and investment
relationship. It will look at where the links are now and where they
are going in the future. It will set out the problems and the
prospects for trade. It will also outline a framework for the longer
term trade relationship, including a number of practical and concrete
steps to build on the strengths in the relationship and to work at
minimising the tensions.
But, above all, it will look at ways in which Australia might
develop the bilateral trade relationship so that it best serves
Australia's national economic interests.
Australia and the United States have a long history of close defence
and security cooperation. Australian and American forces have served
alongside each other in both world wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf war
The ANZUS Treaty, so skilfully negotiated my predecessor Percy
Spender in 1950-51, has symbolised and formalised a close alignment
of enduring strategic interests between Australia and the United
ANZUS is, however, much more than symbolic. It also provides a
framework for practical cooperation between Australia and the United
States in areas such as defence technologies and logistics,
intelligence and support arrangements. As an important component of
the alliance, the Joint Facilities contribute to global peace and
stability, including through treaty monitoring and arms control.
Australia provides support for US deployments in the Asia-Pacific and
the Indian Ocean regions. Australian and US forces train and exercise
together on a regular basis, while the US is an important source of
high technology equipment for Australia, contributing to Australia's
self-reliant defence policy.
The scope and need for such cooperation has increased in recent
years with substantial changes both in the regional security
environment and in our domestic defence policies. This Government is
committed to examining practical ways in which to reflect these
changes by enhancing Australia's defence links with the US under
Enhancing links with the United States at all levels is something
this Government sees as vitally important.
I have been concerned for some time that Australian Ministers have
not represented our interests strongly enough in Washington.
I am going to Washington next week to meet with key members of the
US Administration, including Secretary of State Warren Christopher,
Defence Secretary William Perry and National Security Adviser Anthony
Lake to discuss a range of foreign policy and security issues of
mutual interest. My colleague Minister for Trade Tim Fischer is also
visiting Washington next week for wide ranging discussions with his
In late July the Prime Minister, Mr McLachlan and I will hold
talks on the relationship with Secretary of State Christopher,
Secretary of Defence Perry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
The talks - known as AUSMIN - are extremely important for
Australia and the Government will be using them to underline
Australia's commitment to the relationship and to working closely
with the United States to move forward a number of issues on the
bilateral, regional and global agenda.
Australia and the United States In The Asia Pacific Region
I now want to discuss the ways in which the special relationship
between Australia and the US makes a difference to security and
prosperity of the Asia Pacific region.
As trading nations, both Australia and the United States want to
see an Asia Pacific region characterised by a commitment to free
trade and open markets.
Both countries have an interest in the region avoiding any
breakdown in regional order, which might lead to the use of force,
the threat of force or coercion.
And we both have an interest in seeing the region free of
domination, a region which is stable and which is conducive to
A vital Australia-US relationship is defined by a host of post-war
changes which both countries, acting together or separately to pursue
their interests, will have to manage.
The increased wealth and the newfound capabilities of Asia,
together with the breakdown of the old bipolar structures of the Cold
War which underpinned Asia's strategic environment, mean that the
Asia-Pacific is facing new challenges - challenges in managing an
evolving strategic environment characterised by increasing
uncertainty and a rapidly changing regional economic order.
Asia is in the process of transformation from a region the
security structure of which had been dictated by the two superpowers
and by the sheer size of a third, to one in which five powers - the
United States, Japan, China, Russia and India - will all be key
players. And as Asia changes, and as new relationships evolve, the
regional environment will continue to be fluid.
Whatever the policies of its new leadership might be, China will,
through its sheer size and rate of economic growth, be an
increasingly important force in the region. Japan will undergo
continued internal change and face a radically altered external
environment. Russia will still face an unpredictable future. And a
wealthier and more populous India will remain predominant in one part
of Asia and become a more active player in broader regional affairs.
Four of the five strategic powers in Asia have nuclear weapons.
There is a significant build up of conventional arsenals in the
In short, the rise of Asia will provide enormous opportunities for
the Pacific Basin, but it will also lead to a measure of strategic
On the economic front, rapid growth in the economies of Southeast
Asia and Indo-China in recent years has led to substantially new
patterns of trade and investment across the region. For many of the
mature economies in the region, such as our own, these changes have
meant re-evaluating our approach to trade and investment. With some
important ramifications for all concerned in our approaches to
domestic economic management.
And all countries in the region have had to address emerging
regional concerns such as refugee flows, the need for environmental
management and narcotics control.
Australia and the Region
I have made clear, as has the Prime Minister, that engagement with
Asia is the Government's highest foreign policy priority. Australia's
future security and prosperity will be found in the region. For us,
the issue of engagement in Asia and our relationship with the US are
part of the same dynamic and mutually complementary.
Furthermore, Australia recognises that the conditions that have
allowed for the region's stability and development over the past few
decades have not been solely the result of the industriousness of
countries of the region. They have taken place in the context of a
far reaching commitment by the major regional and global power, the
United States, along with its allies, to the long term security and
development of the region.
The United States and the Region
The United States' fundamental commitment to the Asia Pacific's
stability - demonstrated by its network of alliances in the region
and its continuing military presence - has provided the framework for
the region's spectacular economic development.
Access to the United States market in the past thirty years has
been an essential part of the Asian economic miracle. It needs to be
remembered that the United States was the first and most crucial
export market for Japan, then Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore,
and now Thailand, Malaysia and China. All of these countries are
major markets for Australia.
The United States is - and will continue to be - an Asia Pacific
power, an integral part of the region. I want to re-emphasise that
the Australian Government will strongly encourage the United States
to continue to be prepared to cooperate in shaping the regional
agenda - through maintaining a military presence and by an active
role in developing regional forums.
Australia and the United States: Regional Cooperation: Meeting
the Challenges Together
Influencing the future of the region is not something that Australia
and the US can do alone. Our close partnership, however, is of clear
benefit to the region.
A key way in which Australia and the US contribute to the region
is by seeking to make the most of our alliance and its contribution
to stability in the region at the same time as seeking to forge
greater cooperation in the region.
It is in the interests of Australia and others in the region to
support an active US engagement in the region's affairs.
That is why the Australian Government publicly welcomed the firm
US response to recent tensions between China and Taiwan, as well as
President Clinton's recent reaffirmation with Prime Minister
Hashimoto of the US-Japan security treaty.
Australia's consistent approach will be to reinforce US
engagement, underscoring the importance of established US security
ties such as the US treaty arrangements with Japan, Korea and
Thailand. And, in Australia's case, developing our own relationship
with the United States to the benefit of the region.
Australia must ensure that our own close alliance relationship
with the United States through ANZUS continues to help the United
States maintain its forward military deployments, thereby providing
for the broader security of the region.
There is a clear link between Australia's longstanding alliance
relationship with the United States under ANZUS and our commitment to
engagement with Asia. They are mutually reinforcing. As part of
strengthening ANZUS's capacity to contribute to regional stability,
the Government will, as I indicated earlier, be examining practical
ways in which Australia can encourage and facilitate the US military
role in the Asia Pacific. Any such measures, of course, would be the
subject of discussion with other regional partners.
Australia and the US will also continue to work for regional
stability through the ASEAN Regional Forum. The ARF has a useful role
to play in developing greater understanding and confidence among the
countries of the Asia Pacific and, importantly, contribute to the
avoidance and resolution of tensions.
Regional Economic Prosperity
Another important area where Australia and the US can continue to
work closely together in building regional infrastructure is in the
area of trade and investment, through regional groupings such as
Our joint commitment to APEC is based on its potential to
contribute to an improved environment for doing business in the
region, through trade liberalisation and facilitation and through
APEC's economic and technical cooperation agenda.
The potential direct benefits, both to Australia and to the United
States through the development of new market opportunities is
obviously a high priority for Australia. The Government also believes
that APEC provides an important means of informal high-level
political contact which helps the development of a sense of regional
identity and shared objectives.
Importantly, APEC also complements and supports our efforts for
further global trade liberalisation - the Asia Pacific region leading
APEC also makes a real contribution to regional security through
its built-in high level consultation and dialogue. To make these
groups effective will require us to strengthen our bilateral
relations in the region, on both economic and security issues.
The region has made great progress towards developing the
mechanisms for cooperative dialogue and avoiding tensions. It is
clear that the region still faces significant challenges to sustain
growth and stability over the long term.
Another area in which the Australian Government will be continuing to
work closely with the United States is the global agenda.
The United States as a major power has the ability to influence
events in a way that is simply not possible for Australia.
Nonetheless, there are times when a proposal coming from Australia
can be more widely acceptable and less threatening to others.
Australia looks to the United States, as the world's largest
economy and the most influential force for liberal trade, to continue
its efforts on global trade and investment liberalisation. There is a
pressing need to capitalise on the gains of the Uruguay Round of
multilateral trade negotiations and build momentum for further trade
Australia has worked closely with the United States in the past
through regular rounds of comprehensive trade negotiations. Now, in
the lead up to the Singapore Ministerial meeting in December this
year, we need to maintain and intensify that close cooperation.
With US leadership, there is great scope for using the Singapore
Ministerial Meeting as a springboard for further liberalisation
efforts and new multilateral negotiations in 1999-2000.
I would stress that the Government will embark on such cooperation
against the background of a clear understanding of Australia's long
term national interests in this area. That is, Australia will not
agree with the United States on every aspect of the global trade
agenda and where we do not agree we will vigorously pursue our own
interests in the multilateral system.
Australia will, for instance, not be backward in seeking
meaningful US reform of its own trade-distorting and protectionist
measures, notably its agricultural export subsidies and its
anachronistic Jones Act restrictions in the maritime sector.
In other areas, too, there is now substantially more scope for
Australia and the United States to cooperate in shaping global
For example, like the US, we share a strong interest in
modernising and streamlining the operations of the United Nations.
The Australian Government looks forward to discussing ideas with the
US on how this might be done.
There is now a considerable arms control agenda dealing with
weapons of mass destruction, the means of their delivery and inhumane
Entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention banning
chemical weapons is within sight, and Australia will be working hard
to encourage the US Congress to commit the US to ratification.
The Australian Government has moved quickly to change Australia's
position to one of complete opposition to anti-personnel landmines
and I am pleased that the United States has announced that it will
cease the use of non-self-destructing anti-personnel landmines except
in certain limited circumstances. Our two countries will now work
together to ensure that international pressure is maintained in this
A treaty permanently banning nuclear tests is now within our
reach. Australia and the United States will continue to work together
to bring about this long desired objective. It has become
increasingly apparent in recent years that national approaches are
inadequate to deal with a number of important global issues.
One such issue with potential for close cooperation is in the area
of narcotics control. According to United Nations statistics, the
global trade in illicit narcotics is worth about US$500 billion
annually, more than the global oil trade. Australia will be revising
its International Narcotics Strategy which will include close
coordination of objectives with the United States and others in the
From what I have said tonight, it is clear there is no shortage of
issues where we have a rich and productive dialogue with the US.
The quality of the Australia-United States relationship has never
relied on formal government or defence contacts, important as these
have been to both countries.
In Washington next month, along with Mr Fischer I will be
attending the Australian American Leadership Dialogue. The Leadership
Dialogue brings together policy makers and opinion leaders from both
countries with the aim of sharing perspectives on Australia-United
States relations. Its work is thus similar to that of ACAS and I look
forward to participating in what I am sure will be stimulating
exchanges which will be invaluable in improving the relationship.
Our cultural, educational, sporting and other contacts - our
people-to-people links - are what underpin the relationship. I will
set out just a few here - they are so wide-ranging and numerous that
they may surprise even those who maintain a professional interest in
The many layers of friendly contact include the well-known
Fulbright exchange program which has seen over 4000 Australians and
Americans benefit from scholarships for postgraduate study. There are
centres devoted to study of the relationship in both countries, And a
range of professional exchange programs, in teaching and nursing for
There is also extensive collaboration in the field of scientific
research. The CSIRO works closely with US agencies in research fields
as diverse as entomology, food science and oceanography. And
Australia's international reputation in the field of astronomy has
been put to use in scores of collaborations with US projects like the
Hubble telescope. We have an Australian astronaut in space with NASA.
There is extraordinary cross-fertilisation between our business
and tourist sectors.Over 600,000 business people and tourists travel
between Australia and the United States each year, more than a few of
whom are no doubt present tonight. It is a tribute, I think, to the
warm regard held for Australia in the United States, that, despite
the boom in Australian tourism from other places, particularly in
Asia, the US remains one of Australia's top five sources of tourists.
Many of these contacts take place well out of the view of
governments. They are the product of a history of cooperation, a
mutual respect for professional competence and plain friendship.
Australia and the United States are and will continue to be long time
friends and allies. Our two countries do share an abiding friendship
based on a strong commitment to shared values, substantial cultural
and personal ties. It has been a hard-headed assessment of common
interests which has seen us cooperate closely in the past and which
will underpin closer cooperation in the future.
As I noted at the beginning of my remarks tonight, Australia and
the United States are uniquely well-placed to work together to meet
global and regional challenges. This Government is committed to
developing the partnership at all levels, cooperating where it makes
sense, managing our differences, but always aware that we have
fundamental broader interests and goals in common.
Even more importantly, our partnership has the virtue of being one
which is capable of delivering strategies and solutions to problems -
solutions which will be more widely acceptable and successful than
either of us could achieve alone. That is the strength in the
relationship - we should recognise that and maximise its impact.
I would like to thank Dr Edwards and the Centre for the
opportunity to speak here tonight.