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PM Howard on APEC; N. Korea; trade; terrorism etc

Transcript of the Prime Minister the Hon John Howard MP Press Conference, Grand Hotel, Busan, Korea

Subject: APEC; North Korea; trade; counter-terrorism; Van Nguyen; visit to Pakistan; Iraq.

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen the APEC meeting has concluded The two very strong messages that come out of this meeting are firstly and most importantly the unity of the 21 APEC economies in calling for progress in the Doha trade round, and most particularly progress in relation to agriculture. Agriculture is the deal breaker in Doha; if progress on agriculture is not made then it won’t be possible to unlock progress in other areas. Plainly there needs to be a more generous and significant response by the European Union to the offer that’s been put on the table by the Americans. That offer goes much further than the United States has gone before, it’s a very genuine offer and it’s an offer that can’t remain on the table indefinitely because of the constitutional constraints that operate in the United States. And there does need to be a proper response from the European Union. So far that response has not been forthcoming and I’m very pleased that the economies represented at the APEC meeting were willing to speak with one voice on that issue and that does send a very powerful message because the countries whose economies are represented at the APEC meeting compromise about half of the world’s GDP so you’re not talking about a sectional agricultural interest, you’re talking about a wide-range of countries.

The second very encouraging issue to emerge from this meeting was the unity of purpose in the self-help process in dealing with the possibility of avian flu turning into a pandemic. The Australian offer was well received. There’s a willingness amongst countries there to work together, there’s an acceptance that there needs to be information sharing. There’s an acceptance that primarily the most important issue is to have a strong domestic public health response in a country where an outbreak might occur. It will all stand or fall on that and that’s where the proposals that the Government put forward are so important.

I found the meeting, as I have previous meetings, particularly valuable and I want to record my appreciation for the generous and gracious hospitality of the Government and people of Korea. Any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, do you think what APEC leaders have said about North Korea is strong enough to get some action there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the real playing out of issues surrounding North Korea are more in the context of the six power discussions. There is progress being made, the agreement that was reached some weeks ago is a big step forward. I hope North Korea is as good as its word on this occasion. It wasn’t on an earlier occasion and I can understand people being sceptical but it does represent a step forward.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, it’s a truism to say that such meetings as these require a lot of security, these days, but the security here I think has been quite gob smacking, just in sheer numbers. With a view to 2007 do you think that we would have to be looking at duplicating that or is it just horses for courses…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look I’m not going to comment on the security here. That’s a matter for the host country. I’m a guest in Korea, as we all are, and I don’t intend to make any comments about the security here. We’ll do the right thing in Australia, we’ll have the right level of security, the appropriate level of security that’s necessary given the people who will be coming but it’ll also be security that is consistent with the customs and practices of our country.

JOURNALIST:

But can Sydney-siders look forward to a similar sort of…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, look I’m simply not going to speculate about the details of security in Sydney in two years time.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, were you disappointed that the APEC leaders didn’t agree to name names and explicitly name the European Union as the target of your calls for agricultural market access?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think everybody knew who was being talked about.

JOURNALIST:

I didn’t hear that question but I wanted to ask you…

PRIME MINISTER:

You heard the answer though didn’t you?

JOURNALIST:

Caught in the middle.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, yes. I think you and I have the same problem don’t we? Yes that’s right. Well I’ll look straight at you then.

JOURNALIST:

Regarding the pressure on the EU, did you, with your fellow leaders, have an understanding that you’d have follow-up action either individually or collectively to persuade the Europeans to be more…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I have already exchanged correspondence with the British Prime Minister on this matter. He wrote to me a couple of weeks ago saying that, arguing the case for the European Union response thus far and I wrote back to him almost immediately saying that I did not believe it was adequate, and in other different ways we are putting our view. But the Australian view on this is well known to the nations of Europe and Mr Vaile has been in regular contact with the US Special Trade Representative, Mr Portman, and he in turn has been in regular touch, as has Mr Vaile, with Peter Mandelson, who is the relevant EU commissioner. The President made a very strong speech on the subject at the UN. The natural dynamic of the approaching meeting in Hong Kong is going to focus minds and there’ll be all sorts of ways in which our view will be put further and as strongly as the circumstances allow over the weeks ahead leading up to the Hong Kong meeting. We really do have to understand that agriculture is a deal breaker. For the first time in a long time we have a very significant American offer on the table. Now it’s gone beyond what I thought the Americans would do and they have put a very big offer on the table, it’s genuine, but it’s limited time wise and it can’t stay there indefinitely for reasons you all understand and therefore it is imperative that we get a situation where as much persuasion and advocacy can be directed towards the European Union as is possible. We got from the APEC countries this unanimous view and that includes countries that had high levels of agricultural protection, so obviously they were aware of the implications of being associated with that expression of views. So this is much further, this involves people much more than we’ve had before so the heat is really heading towards Brussels.

JOURNALIST:

Presumably you’ll put that view to Mr Blair?

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ll be seeing Mr Blair in Malta, I’ll obviously be putting that view. But I would imagine it’s a view that he personally is sympathetic to. I have never found Mr Blair personally, in his capacity as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, unsympathetic to the sort of things I’m talking about. But of course they have this construct called the European Union.

JOURNALIST:

Out of view of the leaders there were thousands of protestors on the streets of Busan, what’s your message to those farmers that are obviously, they fear any opening up of the markets?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think I would leave the political advocacy to the local members of parliament here in Korea. My message generally to people who oppose more open trade is look at the success story that Korea represents, that’s my message. This is a spectacular example, this country we’re in now, is a spectacular example of what happens when a poorly developed country decides to embrace openness and decides to put its faith in a more open trading system and the way in which Korea has been transformed in 30 or 40 years is quite amazing.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, did APEC leaders discuss counter-terrorism measures?

PRIME MINISTER:

We talked generally about the issue of terrorism. President Putin shared some views with us, he talked about the experience that the Russians had had with somebody who’d been released from Guantanamo Bay and who couldn’t be charged in Russia and he told that this particular person has ended up being involved in organising and participating in some terrorist incidents in the Caucuses, which is an interesting story.

JOURNALIST:

Did you relate that to David Hicks?

PRIME MINISTER:

I didn’t mention Mr Hicks, Mr Hicks is still in Guantanamo Bay. I’m just telling you what Mr Putin had said, what President Putin, I’m not drawing any inferences, I’m just relating what he told me. The Prime Minister of Singapore spoke about the importance of drawing the Islamic communities in. I complimented President Yudhoyono on the work of the Indonesians in dealing with Azahari. I think the Indonesians deserve high praise for that, and there was a generally united view in relation to terrorism, nobody thinks it’s going to go away. I briefly adverted to recent happenings in Australia in the course of my intervention to make the point that no country can imagine that it’s immune from the possibility that people might be planning terrorist attacks. I’m not putting it any more strongly than that given that people are before the courts in our country.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, back home there’s been a report that Van Nguyen’s lawyers and family may seek Government support to take his case to the international court. Do you have any response to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

We haven’t been approached yet. I did see that report on the National Nine News, I think. And if we are approached we’ll obviously consider what is involved and we’ll get advice. But thus far the Government, on my current information, and I stress that, as I speak now we have not been advised, we have not been contacted. Now it may be that in the next little while the lawyers do get in touch with somebody in the Government and if that happens we will obviously respond in an appropriate way.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, just back on the trade issue, is it not a touch of hypocrisy on the part of Japan signing up to this agreement, a strongly worded statement on agriculture, given how Japan treats countries like Australia when it comes to…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think Japan, when you look at the overall trade picture, Japan treats Australia extremely well. I mean I’d be, I would defend the overall trade relationship between Australia and Japan as vigorously as I possibly could because after all Japan is still our best customer and Japan has been a wonderful trading partner for Australia. That’s not to say we wouldn’t like more access in the agricultural area but we do have significant beef access and we have made some improvements in a number of areas. I don’t think the Japanese are being hypocritical, I think what the Japanese have done is to be part of this declaration in the full knowledge of what it means. I mean they agreed to be part of it, I think that indicates that Japan is perhaps looking forward to its time when we could perhaps have a more open approach in relation to agriculture. I mean it’s obviously a matter for the Japanese Government to answer for that. But I don’t see hypocrisy in what the Japanese have done, I see a good approach.

JOURNALIST:

Just back on Van Nguyen, did you have another opportunity during the past few days to speak to Prime Minister Lee about Van Nguyen and that case?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I though we dealt with that?

JOURNALIST:

Since then?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no. I mean we have not, apart from brief, very briefly alluding to our earlier discussion, I have not had any further discussion of substance because there is nowhere further we can go. The Singapore Government has said no, the Singapore Government has set an execution date and our appeals for clemency have not been successful. So there is really nothing to be achieved by pursuing the matter further, at a Prime Minister to Prime Minister level.

JOURNALIST:

… talks with Mr Bush, Mr Howard?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well at a meeting like this you sort of have a half of dozen one on one discussions. Look, President Bush and I know each other sufficiently well and we talk to each other sufficiently frequently that we don’t really need to have a formal, sit down, half an hour discussion every time we meet. You in fact can get more out of brief encounters in front of robots or things like that, and you sometimes get some helpful hints from the robots too. You can more out of those sometimes than you can at formal meetings. One of the problems with formal meetings, I mean they’re very important, I would not want to denigrate their significance, but you know people tend to be a little more careful about what they say.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, you head to Pakistan tomorrow where you’ll meet President Musharraf; can you tell us what is plan to discuss with him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we will talk about Australia’s aid to Pakistan to help it further respond to the terrible earthquake. You are aware that we have sent a medical team with support people. It compromises about 160 personnel and they’re going to be there for three months, it’s a very large group and it could well be that there are others areas in which Australia can provide assistance. The Pakistanis have got a huge reconstruction task in front of them. We will talk about relations in the difficult areas in the subcontinent, I’m very pleased, as the world is, that Pakistan and India have made a lot of progress in relation to their differences over Kashmir. We will talk about the ongoing fight against terrorism. President Musharraf has displayed very great courage in a very difficult situation. And we’ll probably also have a brief discussion about Pakistan’s victory in the first test against England too.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, President Musharraf is asking for assistance, primarily with funding, he’s looking for a very large amount of money. Is there any money that Australia…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think if I had something further to say on that it’s something I would say -not now.

JOURNALIST:

But is the prime intention to provide more assistance if it’s needed, whether it be financial or otherwise?

PRIME MINISTER:

Australia has been sympathetic to date and I don’t think that sympathy has been completely exhausted.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, will you have an opportunity to see any of the earthquake affected areas or to meet any of the Australian…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I would like to be able to so, it depends on logistics. I would like to be able to do so.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, apart from, on trade, apart from the unity of advocacy and a stronger signal to the European Union, did APEC leaders discuss any action should the European Union not accept its wisdom on the Doha round? Is there any…

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we’re certainly not going to, we certainly didn’t discuss imposing trade sanctions. I mean we don’t sort of do that, it’s not a question of deciding, that’s not the nature of things. There is no body that, quote, can take action. And it’s a remarkable thing that you’ve got unanimity of view around that declaration from such a diverse group of economies. One more question?

JOURNALIST:

Yes, can I ask you a question about the discussions. Was Iraq discussed and if so could you give us a flavour of those discussions. And was there expression generally of support for Mr Bush’s strategy in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

Iraq was mentioned by one or two speakers. From recollection both of them expressed support for what the Americans were doing. But I don’t recall any speaker condemning it.

Thank you.

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