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Transcript: Howard On Clinton


12 July 1999

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW THE WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON, USA

JOURNALIST:

Surely the lamb issue came up, what did you say?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes it did. The President and I had a one-on-one meeting before lunch. We talked about lamb mainly during that discussion and I made it plain to him that that issue had caused a greater adverse reaction in Australia on a trade matter than any other trade issue that I could remember.

JOURNALIST:

You are really furious about it aren’t you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we are very unhappy, very unhappy. And we made it very plain that the thing that particularly upset us was the imposition of a tariff on the in-quota area. I raised with him the difficulty of the transitional impact of the decision and our officials have agreed to work on that. I pointed out that we would pursue our remedies in the World Trade Organisation and that we would be providing compensation to the Australian lamb producers who have been adversely affected by this decision. Both of us agreed that our differences on lamb notwithstanding, we had to work together to achieve freer trade goals within the confines of the World Trade Organisation. We are both going to work very hard on getting a Leaders’ Declaration out of the APEC meeting in New Zealand directed towards ensuring that we have a good result at the World Trade Organisation when the comprehensive trade round commences which we both very strongly support.

JOURNALIST:

How did the President respond on lamb?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the President understood that we were very angered about it and very upset about it. He indicated that there were domestic considerations that he took into account and that he believed that taking in account of those considerations was important to the broader goals he felt that he had in relation to trade. I mean, I really think they are questions that have to be directed to him. I mean, I put a view, I put a view publicly, I put a view privately, I am repeating it here today. Everybody knows our position. We are upset at the decision but it’s not going to be changed. I understand that.. It doesn’t make it any easier for us. We don’t agree with the decision but equally we can’t allow it to contaminate a broader relationship -- certainly not the security aspects of that relationship.

JOURNALIST:

Has it not already affected the relationship?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it’s caused the most adverse reaction of any trade decision the United States has taken in recent times. I can’t think of one that’s caused a more adverse reaction in Australia. Now, I told the President that. I told those who were at the lunch that. Now, that doesn’t mean that you are allowed to contaminate other aspects of a very broad, a very deep relationship. Somebody asked me about the aid workers. I discussed their fate at length last night with the Secretary of State. I raised their position with the President and others during the luncheon today and they both indicated that they would do all they could over the days and weeks ahead to build the pressure to secure their release. We remain very concerned about their situation and we certainly appreciate the efforts that have been made by a lot of people and we’ll, of course, continue to make our own efforts to bring about their release.

JOURNALIST:

And what about Indonesia and Timor, Prime Minister,…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we discussed Indonesia and Timor at very great length over lunch. I said that Indonesia deserved from the world perhaps a little more credit and a little more praise and understanding for the transition that was occurring in that country towards a more democratic system of government. We remain very strongly committed to a clean and open ballot in East Timor to determine the fate of that territory. I said that it was important to keep things in proportion. There are 950,000 people in East Timor, there are 211 million people in the whole of Indonesia and it’s important that the rest of the world understand that proportionality and the pressures that are on Indonesia in relation to the whole of the country and not just East Timor.

JOURNALIST:

Sir, is there anything the President can do to make up to Australia, to compensate in some other area?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look, it’s not a question of making up or compensating in other areas; it’s a question of dealing with the merits of individual issues. When you have a relationship which is as old as ours and is as close as ours you can talk very frankly and very directly when you are upset about something in perhaps a way you can’t when you have a relationship with another country. Now, we are very upset about this particular issue and there’s no point in mincing words about it. But on other issues, of course, we’ll continue to work very closely together and I think it’s a question of moving on to ensure as best we can together to get good outcomes from the World Trade Organisation. I think that would be a good goal for both countries to set themselves but that’s not going to alter our sense of disappointment.

JOURNALIST:

What do you want the WTO to do?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I want the WTO to do something more to free up trade in agriculture, for example. Because that’s something that we are very good at and we think the rules on agriculture now are loaded against countries like Australia and we have just seen an example of it.

JOURNALIST:

The US wants an early harvest on agriculture, they want agriculture….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we wall want that. Everybody wants an early harvest. Some get it and some don’t.

JOURNALIST:

The American Farm Bureau is saying that’s detrimental to agriculture, they want a singular undertaking so that agriculture will get the full benefits….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, as a very efficient agricultural exporting nation Australia has an unambiguous national interest in having as liberal a trading environment in agriculture as possible. That has always been our position and that is why, of course, we are very disappointed and upset and cranky about the US lamb decision.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, did you raise the issue of China joining the WTO….

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, yes. The President indicated to me that he is very strongly in favour of China joining the World Trade Organisation. We discussed that at very considerable length and we’ll be working together to bring that about.

JOURNALIST:

What about your concerns about the relationship between the US and China after the bombing in Belgrade?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, he raised that. I mean, it’s self-evident that that has been a setback to US/China relations. I think that’s a matter for the American administration to talk about rather than me.

JOURNALIST:

Given the performance on lamb how can you be confident that Mr Clinton will show a leadership role at the WTO….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think on this, as in all other political things, you have to react to what people do and give praise where it is due and criticise where you don’t agree with what’s being done. I mean, as I said, we have a very broad relationship with the United States. We are unhappy about one aspect of it at the present time but there are a lot of other things that we are not unhappy about. The President’s reaffirmed his commitment to the importance of APEC. He understands, as I do, the importance of the APEC leaders coming out very strongly in favour of an effective world trade round. We both want to have an effective World Trade Organisation round. We want it to be comprehensive, we want everything on the table. We both said today to each other that we want to work together on that. Well, let’s see what happens. I think in six months you come and ask me the same question and I’ll give you my reaction.

JOURNALIST:

It’s outcomes that count.

PRIME MINISTER:

Outcomes always count in politics. They are far more important than rhetoric. It’s outcomes that matter and it’s outcomes that electorates either in the United States or in Australia respond to. Thank you.

[ends]

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