PAMM press conference

Manila, Philippines

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

20 February 2014

SEC. RAUL HERNANDEZ: I would like to invite Sec. Del Rosario to read his statement.

SEC. DEL ROSARIO: Our dear friends, the Honourable Ministers Julie Bishop and Andrew Robb, members of the Australian delegation, my colleagues in government, the Hon. Secretary Gregorio Domingo, DFA and DTI colleagues, our friends in the media, ladies and gentlemen.

We've just concluded the 4th Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting or what we call the PAMM. The PAMM was established in 2005 to review and set the direction of our bilateral relations and to discuss initiatives to further strengthen these relations. Australia is one of the Philippines' closest and most active partners. Our relations cover a wide spectrum of fields of cooperation such as political, defence and security, development cooperation, trade and investment, education and people-to-people relations. We took the opportunity to convey the appreciation of a grateful nation to Australia for the over 40 million Australian dollars in support which it provided to the Philippines following the devastation of super typhoon Yolanda. I updated our Australian friends on the ongoing recovery and reconstruction efforts of the Philippine government and expressed our appreciation for Australia's long-term commitment to support these efforts. We may wish to recall that Minister Bishop came on a weekend last December shortly after the disaster to ensure that the Philippines will be able to receive all possible assistance.

I briefed Minister Bishop on our achievements in the Mindanao peace process including the signing of all the annexes of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro and the anticipated signing of the Comprehensive Agreement. Australia has, indeed, been making significant contributions for lasting peace and stability in Mindanao particularly through its Aid Program. We reiterate our profound gratitude to Australia for continuing to be the leading development cooperation partner, providing 100% grant aid in the total amount of over 170 million Australian dollars for 2014. Australia's latest project in cooperation with the Department of Education, the Best Education Sector Transformation Program, or what they call as BEST, is a very welcome initiative. The project which will be launched tomorrow by Minister Bishop will provide much-needed support for the implementation of the government's K-12 Basic Education Program. The funding of 150 million Australian dollar in a span of 6 years will be separately provided for this project.

On defence and security cooperation, the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement or SOVFA which entered into force in September 2012 had facilitated the humanitarian and disaster response operations of the Australian Defence Force in the typhoon-affected areas in central Philippines. I am pleased to say that in my discussions with Minister Bishop, we agreed to continue advancing our defence and security cooperation including focusing on counter-terrorism with the holding of the 4th round of bilateral counter-terrorism consultations this year. We also agreed on convening the Second Strategic Dialogue which brings together our foreign affairs and defence officials in discussing and coordinating on issues of mutual and strategic concerns.

On regional and global strategic matters, there were discussions on various developments in the region such as regional peace and stability particularly in the West Philippine Sea, priorities in the United Nations and in developments in ASEAN. This year is particularly significant because we are marking the 40th Anniversary of the ASEAN-Australian Dialogue relations, the commemoration of which will be launched this afternoon.

Allow me to thank once again Ministers Bishop and Robb and Sec. Domingo in working together in advancing the interests of our countries and people. I thank you.

SEC. RAUL HERNANDEZ: Thank you, Sec. Del Rosario, and now, let us listen to the statement of Minister Bishop.

HON. JULIE BISHOP: Thank you, Sec. Del Rosario, Sec. Domingo. My counterpart Minister Andrew Robb, the Minister for Trade and Investment in Australia and I are delighted to be here for the Fourth Philippines-Australian Ministerial Meeting. It is some time since the last meeting was held, almost three years, and we have taken this opportunity to highlight the importance of the relationship with the Philippines to the Australian government. We are close neighbours, we are close friends and we value the relationship that we have with the Philippines. There's deep affection between the people of Australia and the people of the Philippines. In fact, about 250,000 people of Philippines' origin live in Australia and make a significant contribution to our community.

We discussed a range of matters where we shared common interests and common outlooks, the challenges that we face, and we had made progress in a number of significant areas. The cooperation between Australia and the Philippines in economic terms and strategic terms is deep but we believe that there is more that we can do to broaden and diversify our already strong relationship.

We spoke about the reconstruction effort following the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan and I was able to be here on the 7th and 8th of December last year to visit Tacloban and the surrounding areas to witness firsthand the devastation that had occurred but also to see the cooperation between the Australian defence personnel, Australian aid workers, working side-by-side with their Filipino colleagues. Australia was able to contribute what amounted to 100 million dollars in support to the Philippines following the devastation caused by typhoon Haiyan. There was 40 million dollars in direct funding, about 30 million dollars in support from our Australian Defence Forces for about 550 personnel on the ground; we had defence assets in HMAS Tobruk and two C-130s, and that effort, I believe, made a significant difference to the recovery particularly our engineers who were working at schools to try and bring schools back into operation as quickly as possible. Also 20 million dollars for the BEST Program, the education program, will be directed to the Haiyan-affected communities and at least 500 schools will be rebuilt and operational as a result of our efforts. There's also 10 million dollars in grants for small businesses to give people the opportunity to get their lives back on track following the typhoon.

Sec. Del Rosario spoke about Australia being the largest aid grant donor and I am pleased that Australia will contribute 170 million dollars in development assistance to the Philippines this year. I'm particularly pleased because the Australian government, due to budgetary constraints, has had to stabilise its aid budget this year, but in recognition of the reconstruction effort that is facing the Philippines, we have been able to increase our support to the Philippines to about 170 million dollars.

We will be working in cooperation with the Philippines' government to ensure that our joint priorities meet the reduction of poverty, the support for economic growth and the support for institutions that will enable the Philippines to grow economically and strategically.

We congratulate President Aquino and the Philippine government on the peace process and negotiated outcomes at Mindanao and as Sec. Del Rosario indicated, about 40 percent almost 50 percent of our aid budget will be directed to Mindanao to ensure that this peace process is sustainable.

The education of young Filipinos is a matter not only for this country but it's also a matter of concern for Australia because we want to see a strong and prosperous Philippines nation. And so, we are committing significant funding to a program called BEST, about 150 million dollars for over 6 years, which will be for rebuilding classrooms affected by typhoon Haiyan, building new classrooms, training teachers, providing support to children K-12 so that we can see better education outcomes for young people of this country that they will be able to reach their potential and take part in the form of labor force, to take part in the economic growth and success of this country. And I look forward to visiting a school tomorrow as we confirm that announcement of the 150 million dollars for the best program.

This is the 40th year of the ASEAN-Australian dialogue relations and we are delighted that we have the opportunity to formally mark that at a ceremony here in Manila later this afternoon. We see ASEAN as an important organisation, indeed a vital organisation, in terms of maintaining peace and stability and security in this region, and Sec. Del Rosario and I discussed a number of the challenges that are facing this region in terms of competing territorial claims. I made it clear as I've had in the past that Australia takes no position on these claims but we urge all parties to resolve any disputes or any claims peacefully in accordance with a rules-based system, in accordance with international laws, so that we can maintain freedom of navigation and freedom of trade through those important waterways. And we must certainly recognise the challenges that this presents to us but we believe that ASEAN has a vital role to play in engaging with all parties through these claims.

There are many areas where we cooperate. Many areas of engagement, in defence, security, counter-terrorism, people trafficking, people smuggling, education, tourism, it is very broad. But one initiative of which I'm particularly proud is an education initiative that the Australian government has dubbed the New Colombo Plan. The original Colombo Plan saw thousands of students from the region brought to Australia to study in our universities during the 1950s through to the 1980s and over 30 years, about 40,000 young people from the region studied in Australia and gained their perspectives and understanding of Australia through this process. The Australian Government has established a New Colombo Plan which is the scheme in reverse, giving young Australian the opportunity to take up places at universities in the region so that young Australians can live and study in countries, in new regions and come back to Australia with new insights and new ideas – hopefully language skills – and not only add to the productivity and prosperity of our country but set up connections and networks that will last a lifetime. And in this way, Australia would truly engage in the region. A pilot program was established this year and in 2015, we hope to roll the New Colombo Plan out across the region. And I expressed our very great hope that the Philippines will be one of the partner countries in the New Colombo Plan in 2015 so that young Australians will have the opportunity to live and study here in the Philippines and form the kind of enduring friendships that have underpinned our relationship for so many decades past.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are delighted to have this opportunity to be in Manila to stress the importance that we place upon this relationship. And it is our firm belief that the very best days of the Australia-Philippines relationship lie ahead of us. Thank you.

SEC. RAUL HERNANDEZ: Thank you very much, Minister Bishop. And now, we will listen to the statements of Sec. Domingo and Minister Robb. Secretary, you have the floor.

SEC. DOMINGO: Okay, thank you. The PAMM has been an important venue for discussing the Philippines and Australia engagement in global, regional and bilateral fora. We discussed a lot of topics, we covered a lot of grounds including what is going on the global economy, and its impact on Asia, a discussion on the current status of engagements in WTO, APEC, ASEAN, RCEP, TPP. We also discussed a number of specific items including issues on mining and offer of technical assistance to us by Australia on providing us with more information on mining regimes. We also discussed the partnership between our two countries in developing the Philippines' technical and vocational training framework that we have successfully implemented to ensure that stable supply of qualified skilled workers in industries including the BPO sector wherein the Philippines is a global leader. We have invited Australia to take advantage of the premular (?) framework and invest in other economic areas in the Philippines, knowing that a globally competitive pool of skilled workers and professional is available to support and enhance their operations. We thank Australia for their support in terms of technical assistance on many fronts which has helped us tremendously. We also thank them for bringing a high-level delegation of businessmen from Australia, CEO levels, and we know that because of the presence of the high-level delegation in both government side and the business side, that this ensured a meaningful discussion and, more importantly, for us craft a realistic and responsive plan of action for moving on our bilateral trade and investment agenda. We look forward to growing trade and investment relationship and as Minister Robb stated in our meeting that improving trade will eventually lead to improving investments. So, thank you.

SEC. RAUL HERNANDEZ: Thank you, Sec. Domingo. And now, let us listen to the statement of Minister Robb.

HON. ANDREW ROBB: Well, thank you very much and particular thanks to Sec. Domingo and Sec. Del Rosario for the really warm welcome that both my ministerial colleague, Julie Bishop, and I have received. And it is a welcome which conveys enormous friendship and comfort in a way, comfort in dealing with one another as true friends can only deal with one another.

We came probably in the trade side and investment side with three particular messages, if you like. Firstly, that the Philippines is a highly valued friend and partner in the Asia-Pacific. Secondly, that Australia is open for business. We are here very keen to develop both the trade and investment opportunities both ways. And thirdly, that we are very enthusiastic about the improvement that's taking place since the ASEAN-New Zealand-Australian Free Trade Agreement, enthusiastic about the trade response, but we do feel also that the potential for greater trade investment has yet to be realised and there is so much opportunity for both of us to make more of our friendship and our partnership in the region.

In that regard, we talked about the trend that is emerging around the world where many countries especially the developed world are moving away from the highly interventionist approach after the global financial crisis, moving away from the massive spending often of borrowed money and the quiet storm of regulation that has characterised so many countries. What they're finding is it's not delivering sustainable economic growth and they're moving towards alternative approaches and, in particular, they're looking to trade and investment to be a big part of that alternative approach, prudent financial management combined with trade and investment and that certainly is the initiative that we're taking within Australia. In a lot of the emerging world, they didn't confront many of the same problems in the global financial crisis but they can also take advantage of this growing predisposition in the developed world for much greater focus on trade investment and that, of course, led us into discussing the role of different trade agreements, not only the FTA which I think has already proven itself to be an effective basis for trade between ourselves and the Philippines and other Asian countries, but the WTO. For the first time in history, MC9 in Bali, there was a package. It wasn't the most comprehensive package but it was one on trade facilitation. Both our countries support of that and for the first time the WTO got an outcome. But we are also talking about all the bilateral agreements and the plurilateral agreements that are going on. There is a welter of agreement going on in the world, and in that regard, Sec Domingo expressed the Philippines' desire to look at joining the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is an agreement of 12 countries that is being attempted to be finalised. At the moment representing 40% of the world's GDP. Once that's completed, Sec. Domingo expressed the interest of the Philippines in joining and we responded that we would, at that stage, be very supportive of any approach that the Philippines makes to join such a grouping. And that's because the more that we can reduce barriers between very significant parts of the region, the greater will be the opportunities, the greater will be the trade, and the greater will be the investment.

Also with APEC, you've got the chairmanship of APEC next year. It's a feather in your cap and I wish you all the best with that year and the chairmanship and what you will bring to it. We have offered to have one of our officers who have been involved with APEC organisations and in several different APECs and to be available to be involved to work alongside with your team to help the process, the Philippines, as friends do, we share experience, and make sure that we both can, in our own roles, achieve what the optimum that can be achieved.

And finally, we've talked a lot about, well I shared the experience we've had in Australia with responsible mining. In the last 12 to 15 years, we've been the beneficiary in Australia of the mining boom that in large part came out of China and the demand for energy, for resources in energy. We've experimented over the years but we have got to a point in Australia where we have seen a great deal of the benefits – the mining companies in Australia in the last 10 years alone. It contributed over 100 billion dollars US to the government in corporate taxes, have employed literally tens and tens of thousands of people and have done it in a very environmentally sensitive way and are the biggest employers of indigenous people in Australia and have worked very well with labour-rights issues in Australia. So it's being a wonderful, wonderful driver of prosperity in Australia and we are now into our 23rd year of uninterrupted economic growth, and I think we're the only developed country that can lay claim to 23 years of consecutive economic growth. And we've shared that experience, and Sec. Domingo did accept an offer that we made to support the development of regulations on responsible mining, because I know there are a lot of work going on here. You're a very well-endowed resource country, highly-endowed resource country but there's a lot there that needs to be done in a way which makes sure that it's fair and that the community gets the advantage not only environmentally and it looks after indigenous people in your country as we've thought to do in Australia. So, all I'm saying is it can be done and whatever we can do to help share that experience, we will do so and with all of those sorts of areas. We are working very closely on all sorts of trade agreements and I do think that I'll find the kindred spirit when we come here. There is a real ambition to drive the trade, to open the economy, to encourage the foreign investment and to, you know, ensure that it leads to just and real opportunity that's out there, to include the welfare of all your people with proper advantage, and we in Australia would like to be a part of that. We'll be your partner and in the process, it helps out people, helps out the outcome, helps out our friends, and it is nice to be doing it with friends. Thank you.

SEC. RAUL HERNANDEZ: Thank you, Minister Robb. The ministers have another appointment to run to, but they are willing to entertain some questions from our media friends. The questions have been partitioned into two areas or topics. The first are political and security, so if we could invite the Secretary and Minister Bishop first for the questions from the media. First to ask would be Maynard Macaraig of the French News Agency.

MAYNARD MACARAIG (AFP): I'd like to ask…I know you've mentioned that you discussed South China Sea and Australia said they did not take any position on the issues, but can you mention how – whether you discussed any concern about the growing tensions in the area and how the two countries could respond to it?

HON. JULIE BISHOP: We did have a long discussion about some of the challenges facing the region in terms of the competing territorial claims both over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands between China and Japan and also the various claims in the South China Sea. As I said Australia does not take a position on these competing claims but we urge all parties to resolve their differences peacefully and lawfully and we believe that there should be consultation, that there should be dialogue. In the case of the South China Sea, we support ASEAN's objectives in concluding a Code of Conduct with China and we hope that there'll be some early progress on that code of conduct. In relation to the Senkaku/Diaoyu issue, we urge both sides not to escalate tensions, to recognise that many countries have a deep interest in ensuring that there's peace and cooperation between China and Japan. Australia does have a legitimate interest in these matters, for example 60% of our exports pass through the South China Sea, 40% for our imports, and so we are concerned that there'll be stability and peace in the region and we discussed these issues again, stressing the role that ASEAN has to play in ensuring that each voice is heard in calling for a peaceful resolution of these matters.

SEC. DEL ROSARIO: As you all know, we've taken the position that the core issue in the disputes in the South China is the indisputable sovereignty position of China over nearly the entire South China Sea, and this of course is an excessive claim and we believe that it is in gross violation of international law. There are -- because of these disputes, we have had to look at various means of addressing it. We've had to look for mechanisms that will manage the tensions and we have had to look at mechanisms that will settle the disputes. And so, in terms of managing the tensions, we have relied on the COC and we are looking for an expeditious conclusion of the COC and we discussed this with Minister Bishop.

In terms of settling the dispute we have said that we are looking for a clarification and entitlement of all parties, not only China, not only the Philippines, but the countries that use the seaways for their trade. We believe that we have exhausted all possibilities. We have attempted a political solution. We have attempted a diplomatic solution. And we've come to the last resort which is arbitration. It is a mechanism that is within the ambit of international law and we are utilising this mechanism to help in terms of solving this dispute for us. And among the disputes settlement mechanisms we've selected, we've gone into arbitration and that's where we are. We will pursue, as I mentioned to the Minister, the completion of our memorial so that we can submit this by March 30.

SEC. RAUL HERNANDEZ: The second question will be asked by Charmaine. Is that a short followup?

MAYNARD MACARAIG (AFP): Sir, Ma'am, also on the Australian Security Aid to the Philippines, will there be any increase and will there be any large scale military exercises in two countries forthcoming now that there's a SOVFA?

SEC. DEL ROSARIO: I think that the SOVFA is going to be very useful moving forward. We appreciate the assistance that we receive from Australia in terms of defence and security, in terms of education and training of our personnel, in terms of participating in tabletop exercises. I think with this SOFVA, we intend to go into a cooperation on real joint training exercises which hopefully will improve our inter-operability. It will improve the way in which we address maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster response. So, we have high hopes in terms of an improved, enhanced cooperation on defence and security with the approval which -- and this was done in 2012, of the SOFVA.

HON. JULIE BISHOP: Likewise, Australia welcomes the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement. We already cooperate across such a broad range of areas and this gives us an opportunity to enhance our defence and security cooperation. We saw Australian Defence personnel working here in the Philippines alongside US Defence personnel, with Japanese Defence personnel in the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan and that underscored for me the importance of the kind of cooperation that Australia can offer to the Philippines and so we look forward to this agreement underpinning enhanced defence and strategic cooperation between our two countries.

SEC. RAUL HERNANDEZ: Yes, Charmaine from NHK Japan.

CHARMAINE (NHK JAPAN): My question is for Minister Bishop. On the Australian missionary being held in North Korea, so far what have you gathered officially as to the circumstances of his detention, the charges he is facing and as far as you're concerned, did he violate any law? And aside from consular assistance, what else would you be doing to secure his release? Will you initiate government to government talks, or avail yourself of dialogue partnership mechanism to engage North Korea?

HON. JULIE BISHOP: Australia does not have a consular presence in North Korea. We don't have an embassy or mission in North Korea so we are reliant on France and Sweden who have a mission there to provide consular support. I understand that Mr. Short has lived for many years in Hong Kong, I understand, for about the last 40 years or more. He is originally from South Australia so I take it that he's an Australian and, therefore, we have made attempts through our Swedish counterparts to establish how he is, where he is, and I'm waiting for reports on that. So, I am rather limited by what I can inform you because we're waiting on reports from France and Sweden. And his wife, I understand, has made a number of media comments from Hong Kong. She has described the work that he was undertaking there. She has described the assessment of the risk that he took and so, I've not spoken to his wife so I can only take up issues being reported accurately, but Australia always seeks to provide the highest level of consular assistance when it can to its citizens who are in trouble or needing our assistance overseas and the same will apply in this instance.

SEC. RAUL HERNANDEZ: Thank you very much. We will have the economic questions now. Claire Delfin of GMA-7.

CLAIRE DELFIN (GMA-7): My question is for Minister Robb. Good afternoon, Sir. Well, it was mentioned earlier that you're here with high-level delegation consisting among others of CEOs. May we know in what particular areas of interest, I mean areas of investments in the Philippines Australia is looking at now?

HON. ANDREW ROBB: Well, the group mainly covers so many areas that are the strengths of Australia, if you like. There are resources and energy companies represented. There are livestock and horticultural groups represented. There are financial services. There are different companies involved with education. And there are companies involved with construction. And a number with not only education but training, vocational education. So it really is a very comprehensive group. There are engineering groups that are associated with some or a number of various disciplines and, in the main, they are the Chief Executive Officers of those companies so, I'll say 60% have got an existing interest here and I want to grow that interest because of the success that they've seen and there is a great sense of optimism about a lot of the reforms that have taken place here, the greater certainty and stability that now from the investment point of view exists within the Philippines and I've congratulated both Secretaries on, you know, that outcome because it has given more hope and confidence to our investors. So, I think as it shows across the board that we have got a very healthy relationship and there is a lot of enthusiasm from the group that joined this delegation.

SEC. RAUL HERNANDEZ: Last question would be from Recto of Business Mirror.

RECTO (BUSINESS MIRROR): Good afternoon. May we know the status of talks between our two countries regarding the entry of Philippine fruits to Australia. I notice that we buy a lot of fruits from you but there is no corresponding gesture buying from ours.

HON. ANDREW ROBB: Okay, we have on the back of the Free Trade Agreement, the ASEAN-New Zealand-Australian Free Trade Agreement, it has led to quite significant growth in two-way trade. For instance, there is a significant market now in coconut. There are opportunities now for mangoes from certain provinces. The same has occurred with pineapple and of course, not only horticultural but the seafood. A very significant seafood market has emerged in Australia and the rest of the others including some other provinces for the pineapple and some other provinces for the mango. We are in the middle of a process to look at the disease-free status and to confirm that and to look at procedures that can satisfy our requirements. There is a demand for the fruits that are produced here but as many would recognise, we might be a continent but we're an island and we've been blessed with a lot less disease in plants and fruits and animals than any other countries in the world. And one of our great strengths into Asia is the sense of a clean, green and safe produce out of Australia and we are most obsessed about protecting that green image because in the years ahead, we think it will be of great value to us. So, we are very keen to trade. We've got a big demand for a lot of the tropical fruits that come from the Philippines. We've got processes in place which I think will come to a satisfactory conclusion and then allow the trade to grow significantly.

SEC. RAUL HERNANDEZ: Thank you very much, Ministers. That concludes our press conference this afternoon. Thank you all and see you again tomorrow.

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