The Australian, Canberra
Time to seal the deal on Japan FTA: Gillard
By Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific Editor
9 October 2012
Julia Gillard announced last night that it was "time to seal the deal" with Japan on what would be Australia’s biggest bilateral free trade agreement.
Speaking at the 50th annual Australia Japan Business Conference in Sydney, the Prime Minister stressed that the closeness of the countries went far beyond the "transactional" focus often ascribed to the China relationship.
An FTA, now in its sixth year of negotiation, would be "a fitting culmination of all our great work over the past 50 years", and would ensure Japan did not fall behind Australia’s other FTA partners, she said.
Ms Gillard said she had recently spoken with Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on a deal, and was encouraged by his response.
Her speech indicates that China will not dominate the white paper on Australia in the Asian Century, which she initiated a year ago, and which was to have been completed by the middle of this year.
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She praised Japan as "a model liberal democracy, embracing human rights and the rules of the international community" — another contrast with China.
Ms Gillard said her tour last year of tsunami-ravaged northern Japan — as the first foreign leader to visit the area — was "one of the most moving experiences I’ve had as Prime Minister".
A mayor and a council president from the area are attending the conference in Sydney.
Ms Gillard said Australia’s and Japan’s "genuine friendship has enriched the prosperity of our people, the strength of our economies and the security of our countries".
It provides, she said, "a template for how countries with different histories and cultures can find agreement in unexpected ways".
No FTA should be more natural or logical than with Japan, she said. For instance, "it would contribute to Japanese food security by making Japan an even more affordable export destination for Australian farmers".
Japan’s investment stock in Australia was more than $123 billion, she said, "and the pipeline remains strong".
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade estimates China’s investments as totalling $19bn.
Only a few hurdles remain to complete the Japan FTA, Ms Gillard said, and they "can be overcome with a concerted political will on both sides".
She urged countries to work together on regional security. "As China and India and other large nations of Asia rise, our strategic landscape is becoming more crowded and complex."
The vision statement agreed by the two countries’ foreign and defence ministers in Sydney last month "will guide our deepening defence and security co-operation," she said. "These are years of destiny for our region," in which Japan was the first country to modernise, "providing . . . an inspiration to other nations".