It’s striking to reflect on how quickly world events can change.
Since my last visit here public attitudes have become increasingly sceptical around the benefits of free trade in this context, Japan has emerged as a frontline advocate for trade liberalisation and Japan and Australia have together led the successful conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, against all odds.
Our co-operation on the TPP underlines one immutable fact.
Japan is one of Australia’s most valued economic and security partners – these are not words I use lightly.
And I can assure you notwithstanding the strength of the relationship we do not take each other for granted.
My visit to Tokyo this week marks another big step in the deepening of our ties.
Yesterday, I met with ministerial counterparts from countries seeking to conclude the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or “RCEP” – a proposed free trade area which bring together the 10 ASEAN economies plus China, India, Japan, Korea as well as Australia and New Zealand.
This morning, I met Minister Seko, the Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.
This was the first of a regular Ministerial Economic Dialogue, designed to ensure that we have a driving force pushing this relationship forward from the very highest levels of both governments.
We discussed how Australia and Japan can strengthen our economic partnership focusing on strategic economic policy priorities, such as on evolving regional architecture, infrastructure, and the digital economy.
We considered how we can work together to support global trade liberalisation, counter protectionism and address market-distorting measures.
It is important that we have this discussion now, at a time of significant risk and uncertainty in the international trading system.
It also builds on the substantial achievements of the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement which entered into force three years ago.
That Agreement was lauded at the time as the most liberalising bilateral trade agreement that Japan had ever concluded – it still is, if I’m not mistaken.
The JAEPA has produced substantial liberalisation to date. And there is of course, more to follow.
Once it is fully implemented, 98 per cent of Australia’s merchandise exports to Japan will be able to receive either preferential access, or enter duty free.
That is the kind of measure that will see tangible benefits to Australian business, to Japanese importers and consumers, to the continued deepening of our long-standing bilateral economic partnership.
You don’t need to look far to know that our world today often defies prediction – it has many times in the very recent past, and no doubt, it will again in the future.
This is what makes it all the more important to value and to nurture the kind of mutual trust and understanding that we share with Japan.
Our friendship is strong and it is special; it is built upon core common values and upon complementary ambitions; and it has proven its worth time and again.
It will be many generations who benefit from the fantastic outcome of the TPP-11 negotiations – they all told us that we couldn’t possibly do it, and together, leading the push forward, Australia and Japan proved them wrong.
As partners, we stepped up to take a leadership role in finalising the agreement among the eleven countries around the table.
It was no easy feat, but we did not give up.
We saw the TPP as a dynamic framework that would drive more jobs, more commercial opportunity – not just for Australia, but for each and every signatory.
Today, that agreement represents the most significant change in global trading since the establishment of the WTO, reaching markets that account for nearly $14 trillion of global GDP.
I am delighted that the Japanese Diet passed legislation to implement the TPP on Friday.
Prime Minister Turnbull and I are committed to bringing the TPP-11 into force as soon as possible.
This is a commitment shared by our respective Japanese counterparts at the highest levels of government – Prime Minister Abe, Minister Motegi, Minister Seko.
We expect, however, that this will not be the end of the story.
As Prime Minister Turnbull said in Tokyo earlier this year, there is no doubt the economic and strategic logic of this agreement is compelling.
So compelling, in fact, that others will want to be a part of it too.
We are seeing this already, and as far as I’m concerned, we would be nothing short of thrilled for this agreement to emerge as an open platform.
The logic of the TPP is clear – it has high standards and it is comprehensive.
We know that it will bring huge benefits to all who sign up, and will act as a positive force for economic reforms across the region.
That’s the real value of a strong economic partnership, one that I see as being built and braided in three threads – the new, the old, and the enduring.
As ever, we start by looking forward to the new.
The trade relationship continues to expand year by year – new markets right here in Japan trading in anything from smashed avo to wagyu steak.
For Japanese investors, Australia offers up possibilities across many non-traditional sectors – health insurance, renewable energy, medical technology and retail.
The new is a renaissance; another generation of young business leaders, entrepreneurs, students keen for these changes and wanting to invest in the bilateral relationship.
Another generation of Australians enamoured with Japanese culture, with study exchanges, with music and fashion and language.
These are young women and men who are addressing gaps in Australia’s understanding of the Japanese market, and reversing past under-representation of Australian business in Japan.
These are young women and men devoting their time to learn the Japanese language, to study at a Japanese university, to work in a Japanese firm – in short, to develop a kind of intimate understanding that you can only have if you have lived and breathed the culture.
I see here today members of the Future Leaders’ Program, students of the Mitsui Educational Foundation, and young Australian farmers on a visit arranged by the National Farmers’ Federation.
And during this my visit this week, I will have the pleasure of being accompanied by a young business delegation focused on advancing this critical economic relationship.
Back home in Australia, there are of course many more such individuals and groups – and with Government support, we see youth alumni networks being strengthened, and young Australians being inspired to see a future in nurturing a relationship with Japan.
The country’s popularity is reflected through the Australian Government’s flagship New Colombo Plan grants, which support young Australians to live, study and work overseas.
We have been overwhelmed by the numbers of young Australians putting their hands up for Japan – in just five years, the Government has sent an incredible 2,300 individuals out to these shores.
These are the leaders, the entrepreneurs, the innovators who will drive us forward into new opportunities and a deeper partnership.
Then, of course, there is the old.
The old is the history of who we are, the connection to where we began and the understanding of how far we have come.
In 1957, the Menzies Government in Australia and the Kishi Government in Japan welcomed the first Japan-Australia Commerce Agreement.
Last year, we celebrated its 60th anniversary, and remembered the incredible foresight and initiative taken by both countries at the time.
It was, of course, just 12 years after we had faced each other on opposite sides of the battlefield.
Together, we signed what I would characterise as the most visionary commerce agreement that either of our countries had ever seen – back when our economic relationship was still taking shape.
It took political guts and a firm resolve to look ahead to the future rather than be held back by the past.
Of course, we can say now that it was absolutely and unequivocally the right call – within a decade, Japan had overtaken the United Kingdom as Australia’s largest export market.
This afternoon, I am proud to continue that tradition of strength and of vision and of respect.
This afternoon, the Australian Government will officially celebrate the handing over of all Japanese company records seized during the Second World War.
Behind these records are real stories marking the tradition of Japanese trade and investment in Australia.
These records mark the fact that our trading relationship goes back before our Federation as a nation to the 1890s – in fact, some of the Japanese companies represented in these records are still making important contributions to Australia’s economy today.
They also mark this Government’s enduring commitment to post-war reconciliation, and to the values that underpinned Australian economic policies back in 1957.
Finally, we come full circle to the enduring; to the stability that continues to form the foundations of our partnership.
Japan is the third largest economy in the world, Australia the thirteenth, in a region that is projected only to grow in terms of its global economic weight.
While we each have our challenges, this is a strong position to be in, and a great place to start as complementary partners.
We both carry strong voices in our defence of the global trading system, of liberalisation, of predictable rules to govern trade.
Our work together within the construct of the WTO illustrates our efforts to fortify the multilateral trading system – working, for instance, to prepare new negotiations to open up digital commerce.
We have built long-standing ties with each other in terms that are entirely natural to both of us.
One clear cut example of this is the resources and energy relationship.
It is a well-known fact that Japanese investment has been essential in the development of many of the export industries that have driven Australia’s growth in recent years.
This includes large-scale projects to meet Japanese demand for resources such as coal, iron ore and liquefied natural gas.
In the coming months, the Japanese company Inpex will kick off production at the Ichthys LNG plant, off the Western Australian coast.
This is a US$34 billion project, and it marks the second largest single foreign direct investment from any country into Australia after the Gorgon Project.
Add to that some fantastic public-private initiatives breaking new ground in our bilateral collaboration.
In April this year, Prime Minister Turnbull launched the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain Project.
This is a world first – a plant envisioned for the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, which will turn brown coal into liquefied hydrogen.
This is a project that could never have seen the light of day unless Japan and Australia had the kind of relationship that we do today – strong backing from both governments, and a consortium of corporate buy-in led by Kawasaki Heavy Industries.
We’re talking about a real game changer here.
For everyday Australians, this means jobs, it means growth, it means lower taxes and greater resilience to global economic volatility.
Today, we see the relationship exploring new waters – we see the intellectual sharing of future cities, we see the booming of services sectors, we see economic transformation in both our countries so that we can both meet the needs of a new era.
Yet, the underlying stability – the enduring legacy of collaboration – continues strong as we work together in response to modern challenges.
Coming here to Tokyo once again has felt a little like coming back to see an old friend – and as I sit down with my Japanese counterparts over the next few days, I look forward to seeing out the next steps in this very special friendship.
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