Australia- active role in the regional trade organization

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Australia- Trade and Immigration Background As Joycelyn
has mentioned Australia’s having greater and greater
interaction with its Asian neighbours, through the areas of
trade and its active role in the regional trade organization –
APEC. Despite its location, Australia can hardly be thought
of being an Asian country. Not so long ago, Asian were
looked down upon, with a mixture of fear because of the
communist aggression, pity because of their poverty, and
contempt, as they dumped cheap and poorly made products
to do Australian workers out of job. For decades, high
prohibitive tariffs blocked the imports of Asian goods, and a
‘White Australia’ policy fenced off Asian migrants. However,
the situation is reversed in the past 2 decades. With East
Asia being the fastest growing economy, and the
development of regional trade blocs in their traditional
trading partners such as the EC and NAFTA that tend to
emphasize internal trade, Asia becomes Australia’s single
most promising opportunity. And now, Australia is eager to
be Asian. Trade (See overhead – Exports) In 1994, some
60% of Australia’s total exports equivalent to more than 60
B A$ went to Asia. While Japan remains to be their largest
trading partner, S Korea replaced US to take the second
place. But at the same time, Australia’s share of Asia’s total
imports is declining, down from 3% in 1985 to 2% in 95.

The main reason is that Asian countries are trading more
among themselves, and importing more hi-er value-added
products, rather than the common Australian exported
commodities. However, steering towards value-adding
industries is not easy. Besides infrastructure and labor
reform, Australian manufacturers will become head on with
some of Asia’s most efficient operations. Anyway, Australia
has shown its committment to free trading. The former Labor
government has committed to cutting the average tariff for
most imports to 5% by 2000, compared to 20% in 1983.

And the trend towards a more open economy will be
continued by the new Liberal-National gov’t. Most domestic
business will not survive under such open competition, but
Australia sees this as an opportunity to reshape its
manufacturing base to become narrower and deeper, and
more competitive. They see an ideal picture of Australia
importing cheap manufactured goods from Asia instead of
making expensive ones at home behind tariff, and Asia
buying mineral and food from them. Yet the Asia’s
super-achievers have never been the faithful worshipper of
free-trade. And Australia has found it hard to dismantle the
barriers to processed minerals and food in the Asian
markets, and this impedes their development of value-adding
industries and job creation. But from the Asia’s pt of view,
Australia’s tiny population of 17 M means little to the Asian
giants, for example when compared to Indonesia’s 180 M.

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A qoute from the Malaysian Info minister, ‘Australia depends
on Asia and not the other way around.’ may reflects
Australia’s position, at least this is the way the Asians see it.

Immigration (See Overhead – Immigration) Another sign of
Australia’s willingness to open is its generous immigration
policy. The # admitted stayed over 100,000 in the 80s, but
was cut back to 80,000 in 92. Most of them were from
Asia. Besides the categories of family reunion and refugee,
Australia, like Canada, also attracted hundred of thousands
of skilled or business immigrants from Hong Kong where
people fled as the Chinese takeover approaches. These
people brought in an enormous amt of capital, and also
initiated a boom in the real estate market. The proportion of
Australian with Asian origins are expected to increase to 7%
in 2000, as compared to 4% now. Most Australians feel
uneasy about this sudden change in the ethnic mixtures of
their countries, and opposing voices are high. The
unemployment figure is double digit already, and most of the
immigrants are unskilled since they were admitted for having
relations in Australia. New policies call for lower # admitted,
and more quotas given to people with skills and higher
education background. Australians are apprehensive about
the pace of Asian immigration, and tension is rising. Many
complain that the new comers keep themselves separate
rather than integrating into community life. But this requires
committment from both sides, and it’s not easy to be done
right the way. Most of new comers have language problems,
esp those came for family reunion. Australians on the other
hand, have little knowledge of other Asian cultures, and
conflicts can occur easily due to misunderstanding. On the
extreme side, fringe groups such as the neo-Nazi Australian
Nationalist Movement and the League of Rights explicitly
claimed that immigration was bad if it meant more Asians.

And the cases of racist violence is increasing. The last PM
Paul Keating actually started some initiatives to narrow the
gap between the local people and immigrants, such as
introducing Asian culture in the school curriculum. An
interesting pt to note, the current PM Mr Howard publicly
opposed the multi-cultural policies, such as hiring
interpreters. His attitude can be constrasted to Canada
which take pride in its multiculturalism, and we’ll discuss it
further later. Challenges So far it seems that Australia is
heading in the right direction, but its successful integration
into Asia won’t be easy. Opposing forecs come both
externally and internally. At home, few Australians see
themselves as Asian. They already felt hostile about the
Japanese investment in their real estate and tourism, and
more interaction with Asian countries is uneasy esp to many
old Australians. On the other side, after all these years of
isolation and avoidance of its Asian neighbours, Australia
can hardly convince its neighbours that it’s Asian. Instead
they try to be an odd man among its neighbours, that is to
integrate fully into the economic life of the region, while
preserving its western values. But from the Asian side, they
may not easily accept Australia’s western practices. The
main issue lies in the difference in their attitude towards
individual freedom and respect of human rights. Take some
examples. Dr Mohammad resented that Australia refuse to
censor a tv program ‘Embassy’ which he claimed was
mocking Malaysia. Australia also got into diplomatic
problems with certain authoritarian regimes for critizing their
behaviors. Its relationship with Indonesia is always tense for
its criticisms of Indonesia over human rights, corruption, and
the status of East Timor. Even Singapore didn’t like
Australia’s comment on its harrassment of the Asian Wall St
Journal and other newspaper. As other Asian countries all
share similar culture and values, Australia with its western
nature would easily be labelled as intruder. And they all
understand that Australia’s friendliness towards Asia is
economically driven, it comes out of the mind, not the heart.

Moreover, some of them even suspect it of acting as a
stalking horse for western interests. Malaysia proposed a
regional East Asia Econ Caucus which will exclude the US
and Australia, and this is clashing over with APEC in which
Australia and US are active participant. So, how can
Australia manage its odd man role in the Asian region?
Should it go for Multiculturalism or a melting pot policy like
the US? How can it balance its relationship with its
neighbours while preserving its western values?
Category: History

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