The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP


Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer

Brussels, 3 February 2000

Australia and the EU After Helsinki: A Strengthening Relationship

Speech by the Hon Alexander Downer MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Australia Business in Europe (ABIE) Breakfast Meeting

(Check Against Delivery)

Today, one of the things I would like to talk about is the much-discussed issue of globalisation. We in Australia, both the Government and the Opposition, don't believe it should be stopped or, for that matter, and this is much more to the point, that it can be stopped. Governments in countries like Australia and the member states of the European Union need to make sure that we go out more successfully and explain the benefits not only of changing technologies, but we explain the benefits of trade liberalisation to our, frankly rather sceptical constituents.

One of the messages that was supposed to have been transmitted from the demonstrators in Seattle, was that trade liberalisation and globalisation were undermining the poor - the poor in the United States, in developed countries and in developing countries. The point we have to try and get across to people is that exactly the reverse is the case. Closing off European markets, closing off American markets, closing off Australian markets to developing countries, damages the living standards of people in developing countries very severely. It denies the opportunity for people in developing countries to lift their living standards through increased trade. I don't think enough people in developed countries understand that.

One of our constant complaints about the European Union is the impact of the Common Agricultural Policy And this issue demonstrates my point very clearly. The Common Agricultural Policy, being a price support mechanism, is a regressive system because the poor end up having to pay more for their food than would otherwise be the case. The subsidy that the poor are paying gets redirected to farmers., but more than half of that money goes to farming conglomerates, big farming companies, rather than small family-operated farming units.

The Common Agricultural Policy as it is currently structured discriminates against the poor., it leads to wealth redistribution from the poor to the rich. I believe that a restructuring of the Common Agricultural policy will be necessary, particularly with enlargement of the EU in the next few years. A change in the Common Agricultural Policy will have to lead to a move away from price support mechanisms to income support mechanisms, to target and help poor farmers., to target agricultural restructuring instead of running the current, very regressive system.

It is also important to understand this: that the Common Agricultural Policy, because it's a price support mechanism, creates an incentive to produce, which in turn leads to overproduction. Those over-produced goods are then disposed of on the global market, which depresses international commodity prices. The great losers from that are the poor farmers in developing countries. So even though the Lome Convention provisions provide certain preferential access for developing countries EU market, nevertheless the commodity prices are artificially depressed because of the production surpluses created in Europe.

These are the sorts of issues that we want to see addressed - and I think to be fair, Europe is happy, prepared to have addressed - in the World Trade Organisation. There are many others.

The high levels of protection in the United States for textiles: again, this is at the expense of developing countries. Other forms of protection in the services area: and so the list goes on. It is not fair on poor people within developed countries or in developing countries, to deny discussion about these issues.

One of the things that I hope I can contribute to during this visit to Europe, is the reignition of talks that will lead to a new global trading round. Because if we don't get a new global trading round going during the course of the next year or so then I think, through delay, it's going to make it a great deal more difficult to trigger these types of negotiations in the years ahead. It really will become a major problem because of the misconception about the impact of trade liberalisation.

These sorts of issues are issues of how to make our societies fairer., of how to make globalisation work for all sections of the community. They must be addressed, but they can't be addressed successfully if we're going to collapse the whole program of economic liberalisation. We look very much to the European Union to play a constructive role in that process.

Globalisation has an enormous impact on international foreign policy issues. What happened during 1999 1 thought demonstrated very much that point. You cannot nowadays, wherever you are, get away with human rights abuses without the rest of the world knowing about it. Whether they're in Kosovo, whether they're in East Timor, whether they're in chicane, or wherever it may be, you can't do it without people knowing about it. CNN, BBC World, the media are there. As a consequence of that, the broader world community, including in countries such as the European Union's members, has this material fed to them. The political consequence of that is that the international community expects action in order to address these issues. Gone are the days when people didn't know much about what was happening in other parts of the world., they didn't care very much., only the intelligentsia were following these issues and politically these questions did not matter.

For the international community, that poses an enormous challenge. How do you address these issues internationally? How do you balance the two principles of humanitarianism - and we'd all like to believe we were humanitarian - and national sovereignty? In most of the world national sovereignty still carries a good deal of weight.

In the case of East Timor, although there were some rough moments, I do think it was a good illustration of how the international community can address a humanitarian problem. When the violence erupted in East Timor in September of last year, the international community went to the Indonesian Government, which was the governing authority at that time in East Timor, and said we believed we should send in an international force. What the international community didn't do, was invade Indonesia or go to war with Indonesia. We always made it clear to our constituents - that was absolutely not on. We would not, and we could not do that. We did not believe that would be a sensible solution to the problem. It would have been a disastrous way to approach the issue.

Eventually - that's not to say it wasn't without a good deal of pressure - particularly from the United States and the international financial institutions and also the Europe an Union and countries like ours - the Indonesian Government agreed to allow in an international force. That's the first point. The second point was that this international force was mandated by the United Nations Security Council. It had the full force of international law. From a unanimous

resolution of the United Nations Security Council, what is known as INTERFET, the international force in East Timor, was established and there was no question about the legality of it or for that matter, the support of the broad international community for that particular operation.

The third thing is that it had a strong mandate. There is no point in sending in peace-keeping forces with a weak mandate. Europe knows that. The original United Nations force in Bosnia was a disaster because of the weak mandate that it had. You must have a strong, decisive mandate. In this particular case, the international force in East Timor had what is known as a Chapter VII mandate. That means that they had a licence to enforce peace and security, if necessary in a ruthless way, in East Timor. If they had not had that mandate, I think it would have been a great deal more difficult for them to achieve what they achieved. There is no point in sending in international forces if there's going to be an equivocal, an uncertain and an indecisive operation.

The fourth thing is that, in the case of this particular operation, there is an exit strategy. I do think it is important when you send in forces, to know when you're going to take them out again. In this particular case there is at least a road map., that is, the United Nations Transitional Authority is now administering East Timor. The international force will be replaced by a regular United Nations peace-keeping operation. When the United Nations Transitional Authority finishes its work in a couple of years or so, then not only will it withdraw but at least the bulk of the peace-keeping operation will almost certainly withdraw. Responsibility for peace and security will then be in the hands of the new East Timorese Government.

This is only an illustration, and there have been many other attempts to try to fix up humanitarian crises around the world during the last year and in the years before that. But I think there are some real lessons in how this question of East Timor was addressed by the international community. For us, that it was a problem in our relations with Indonesia is true and we went through a pretty 'down' period in that relationship for three or four months. I can only say, particularly to the Australians and the Indonesians in this audience, that I'm delighted with the now very considerable improvement in our relationship with Indonesia. We look forward to working happily with the Wahid Administration and indeed, giving our very strong support to that Administration, bearing in mind the frankly, enormous challenges that it faces. Indeed, I think President Wahid is coming here to brussels in the next few days. I know that he will be welcomed here and it certainly something we're encouraging the Europeans to do. Democracy is coming to Indonesia, democracy deserves to be given a chance in Indonesia.

So, globalisation has changed the international trade and economic agenda and it has changed our international political agenda. I think that, therefore, as we move through the early part of this century, we're going to face some very difficult and some very unexpected challenges. I am hopeful that Australia and the European Union will be able to cooperate closely as we address those things. Our relationship is not just going to be a relationship shouting at each other over agriculture. Our relationship is going to be one that is much more broadly based. Cooperation in Asia-Pacific affairs and cooperation on broader international economic trends. I think it's a relationship that will continue to work extremely well.

Again, thank you Jane and all of you at ABIE for organising the breakfast this morning. It is great to have the opportunity to meet with people in the Australian business community here in Europe - and I hope they're all doing very well here.

I would add that the Australian economy is going incredibly well and is growing a good deal faster than the even recovering major European economies. Some of the smaller EU member states are growing faster, I think the Ireland's economy is growing faster than the Australian economy and the Dutch economy at about the same rate.

But the major economies in Europe are growing slower than the Australian economy, even given the latest increase in interest rates. There's real momentum to economic growth in Australia that is born out of the way we have restructured our economy, but born also, in my view, out of enormous productivity improvements, including those brought about by our introduction of new technologies. So I think we can keep up the pace of this growth at more or less the same rate for quite some years to come.

Thank you very much.

Copyright Commonwealth of Australia | Disclaimer | Privacy

Valid HTML 4.01!