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PM Howard's Address to the APEC CEO Summit, Busan

Transcript Of the Prime Minister The Hon John Howard MP
Address To the APEC CEO Summit, Busan, Korea

E&OE…

Mr Chairman Leong, ladies and gentlemen. It is again to have the opportunity of briefly addressing this CEO’s gathering on the eve of the APEC meeting in Busan Korea. I want for a few moments this morning to talk about some of the shared responsibilities not only of leaders but also of company executives and corporations generally in responding to the challenge of the, not only the challenge of the reality but also the threats of natural disasters. In recent years we have seen the need to not only look at the challenge of terrorism from an economic perspective as well as a personal and national security perspective.

But we’ve also; due in no small measure to the devastating effect of the Boxing Day tsunami, we’ve had cause to look at the impact of natural disasters, not only on the lives of individuals who are either taken or devastated by those natural disasters, but also on communities generally. It is therefore appropriate that one of the major issues that this year’s APEC Leaders Meeting must focus on is the threat of an influenza pandemic. This is a prime agenda item and it is an issue that will require from leaders a collaborative, transparent and open response. The most important observation that I can make about the way in which economies and therefore leaders of those economies respond to the threat of natural disasters is to call for information sharing, openness, acknowledgement of challenges within individual countries and a desire on the part of all countries to share information and to collaborate.

We can learn a great deal from the response of the world, and speaking as the Prime Minister of Australia, from the response of my country and others, particularly to the Boxing Day tsunami which claimed so many lives just on 12 months ago. As you know, the response of many nations around the world was one of overwhelming generosity and speed in the despatch of necessary assets and resources to help afflicted communities. I am particularly proud of the response of my own country; both at an official level with a $1 billion aid package to be administered under a special partnership presided over by the President of Indonesia and myself, but also the giving by individuals of some $350 million Australian dollars. Added together, it represented an extraordinary response of generosity by a nation of 20 million people. In expressing my pride in that response, I don’t in any way of course denigrate the contribution of so many others to that enormous human disaster. And in recent weeks we’ve had need to address the human devastation of the earthquake in and around Kashmir and I was reminded in a telephone conversation with the President of Pakistan only last Sunday of the ongoing scale and challenge of that particular disaster and indeed a donors conference is taking place as we speak in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

At the Leaders Meeting tomorrow, appropriate responses to the pandemic will be, potential pandemic rather, will be high on the agenda. Australia will be announcing a very significant initiative herself in order to add to the responses of a number of countries in the region and I know it’s an issue that would be very much in the minds of both the President, President Roh of the host country Korea, but also of President Bush of the United States. I am sure I don’t need to remind you that the economic consequences the impact of a pandemic on the economies of all of the nations of the APEC region could be potentially quite devastating. And once again, it is not only the human dimension of natural disasters that we must come to terms with but also the significant economic developments. It was important to learn from the response of the world to the tsunami that much and all as magnificent work was done by the great relief agencies of the United Nations and other international bodies. It was nonetheless a reminder to all of us that we still live in a world of nation states and it was the capacity particularly of the military forces with their emergency services, to respond very quickly to the immediate aftermath of the tsunami that made such a great difference. In the case of Australia it was possible for us to have military assets in the province of Aceh within a matter of a few days. And indeed, the response, the military assets from the United States and other countries was equally swift and equally effective.

And once again we have seen in Pakistan the capacity of the military forces of that country and the assets of other nation states which can be deployed by definition, all that much more rapidly than those of international organisations. They have made a very significant difference, and there is a message in that for any response that we might make to an influenza pandemic. The important thing to emphasise is the national preparedness of individual member states. And the importance of putting aside any sense of national pride or self consciousness about any outbreak in individual countries; a willingness on the part of individual countries not only to confront those outbreaks but also to acknowledge that they have occurred and where it is appropriate and where it is necessary to call for assistance. The last thing that any nation can afford to do, not only in its own interests, but in the interests of fellow members of the world community, is to in any way hide or cover up the onset of the signs of an outbreak of something that could turn into a pandemic.

Before concluding my remarks Mr Chairman, I would be remiss if I didn’t address a few comments to some of the direct economic challenges that face this APEC meeting. I’ve mentioned the importance of the response of member countries to any possible pandemic. An even more important item on the agenda for leaders this afternoon and tomorrow will be what we say about the very fraught condition of the current negotiations towards concluding the Doha trade round. It’s not being melodramatic to say that unless there is a very significant shift in the attitude of countries, we are not going to have a successful Doha trade round.

We have seen in the past several weeks a very extensive offer in relation to agricultural protection made by the United States. The size and the scope of that offer has exceeded the expectations of many and has surprised the regular critics of the United States on world trade issues. That offer calls for in my view a commensurate response from other countries which are major participants in the area of agricultural protection. I think of course of the European Union in particular. I think also of Japan and of others that have high levels of agricultural protection. I declare of course a national interest of Australia in these matters, but the case for making progress in this area is not a case based on the national interest of Australia – important though that always is, it is a case based upon the importance of opening up world markets for some of the least developed countries in the world community.

It has long been my view that trade is infinitely more important to the cause of lifting people out of poverty than is direct assistance by governments, wealthier governments to less wealthy countries. I don’t denigrate the importance of aid and I don’t in any way do other than applaud the way in which many countries around the world including my own have pledged increase direct foreign aid over the years ahead. But speaking in Korea I am reminded of what a remarkable example this country represents of the benefits of globalisation. When one thinks of the relative position of the Korean economy in the 1960s, one can barely find a more remarkable example of a country that has invested in the future by embracing a reform agenda and pinning it’s hopes and it’s future on a more open world trading environment.

In introducing me Mr Riley was kind enough to talk about the strength of the motor vehicle industry in Australia. There- by hangs an important story about the linkages between economic reform and future economic outcomes. One of the reasons and I don’t for a moment argue the only reason, but one of the reasons why the motor manufacturing industry in Australia is enjoying, and the motor car industry generally is enjoying unprecedented success is the substantial reform of the Australian taxation system that took place five years ago. Prior to the changes that were involved in that reform the motor car industry in Australia was burdened with a 22% wholesale sales tax. Taxation reform replaced that 22% wholesale sales tax with a 10% goods and services tax in circumstances where all business inputs were of course rebateable, and as a result the taxation burden on the motor car industry was significantly eased and that itself made an enormous contribution to the gathering strength of that industry.

At the time taxation reform in Australia was very strongly attacked. It was seen as too risky. It was argued to be unnecessary. The superficial knee-jerk reaction was that it would involve the imposition of a new tax and the critics paid little regard to the longer term economic benefits. If I can be permitted a brief final indulgence of referring to another domestic Australian reform issue at the present time, and that is industrial relations reform, might I draw an instant parallel between the two. It also is being widely attacked as unnecessary. We are being told that everything is going well, that we’ve had 15 years of almost unprecedented economic growth and why on earth would any government in its right mind embrace further economic reform. The reason why the government I lead has embraced that further workplace relations reform is that economies are never static. And unless the reform is an ongoing process the prosperity, stability and the bright outlook of today is replaced by a more uncertain cloudy outlook tomorrow. And a future generation of Australians will not thank the present Australian Government if it fails the test of maintaining the process of economic reform. The changes that we are now embracing, they are politically challenging but they are economically necessary and they will pay enormous long term job and income security benefits for the entire Australian workforce. And if we look around the world we can see example after example of countries that have put off reforms of this character, only to condemn their populations to unemployment levels of 10 and 11%, compared with nations that have embraced them and are enjoying not only more buoyant economic conditions but also significantly lower levels of unemployment with all the attendant social benefits that people being gainfully employed brings to any society. And the message to that particularly in parts of Europe can hardly be lost on any audience at the preset time.

Mr Chairman can I thank all of the CEOs for their continued participation in this very important forum. The underpinning to the leaders meetings of the business community of the member states is very important. It’s a valuable adjunct and one that I know is not only valuable to APEC collectively but I know very valuable on an individual basis to the individual leaders who attend this meeting. I thank you very warmly and I wish the rest of the CEO summit every success.

Thank you.

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