Annual Report 2008-2009

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Your location: Performance > Outcome 1 > Output 1.1 > 1.1.3 Americas

OUTPUT 1.1: Protection and advocacy of Australia's international interests through the provision of policy advice to ministers and overseas diplomatic activity

1.1.3 Americas

On this page: Overview :: United States :: Canada :: Latin America and the Caribbean :: Outlook


Photo - See caption below for description
The Prime Minister meets the US President, Mr Barack Obama, accompanied by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the Australian Ambassador to the United States, Mr Dennis Richardson AO (left), in Washington on 24 March 2009.
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

The department intensified efforts to deepen Australia’s relationship with the United States and other countries in the Americas. Preparation undertaken before the US presidential elections in November 2008 helped the Government engage effectively with a new US administration. Extensive work after the inauguration of President Obama ensured the Government was well positioned to pursue Australia’s interests with the United States. We contributed substantially to developing a productive relationship with the Obama Administration by coordinating early visits to Washington by the Prime Minister and the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence. We also worked to ensure the Australia–United States Ministerial consultations were held within the first three months of the Obama Administration.

The department facilitated productive engagement with Canada on a wide range of global, regional and bilateral issues. We advanced the Government’s commitment to enhance Australia’s engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean, including through the entry into force of the Australia–Chile Free Trade Agreement and the finalisation of the Joint Experts Group Report on strengthening economic relations with Mexico.

United States

In the lead-up to the November 2008 US Presidential election, the department provided analysis of the candidates’ policy positions to ensure the Government was ready to engage immediately with the incoming US administration. This groundwork facilitated Australia’s early engagement on major US initiatives such as the administration’s response to the global economic crisis as well as key common security interests, including the firm commitment on the part of both governments to military and civilian efforts to stabilise Afghanistan and prevent it from again becoming a base for the export of international terrorism.

The department supported visits to the United States by the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, and the Minister for Trade, Mr Crean. The Prime Minister’s visit in March 2009 laid the foundations for close ongoing engagement with the Obama Administration on the vital coordination role of the G20 process in addressing the global economic crisis (see sub-output 1.1.8). Our support for Mr Smith’s and Mr Crean’s visits to the United States in 2009 helped the development of early high-level engagement with their new US counterparts.

We supported visits to the United States by other federal ministers, including the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, in June 2009. We helped strengthen bilateral political ties through support for participation by Australian ministers, parliamentary secretaries and parliamentarians in the regular West Coast Leadership Dialogue in San Diego in January 2009 and in the Australian–American Leadership Dialogue in Honolulu in September 2008.

We helped maintain the strength of the alliance through support for the Australia–United States Ministerial (AUSMIN) consultations in Washington in April 2009. Attended by Mr Smith and the then Minister for Defence, Mr Fitzgibbon, and their US counterparts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the talks underscored the importance of the alliance to both countries. AUSMIN outcomes included an agreement to explore strengthening bilateral civil-military cooperation, including in addressing the needs of fragile states; and an agreement on principles that will guide greater cooperation on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and cyber security.

The department facilitated coordination with the United States of our responses to major regional issues and to the broader global challenges of terrorism, including Afghanistan, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (see sub-output 1.1.10). Coordination mechanisms included the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue with Japan and the regular bilateral Policy Planning Talks with the Department of State held in New York in September 2008.

The United States was Australia’s third-largest trading partner in 2008, with two-way trade in goods and services growing 14.1 per cent between 2007 and 2008 to reach over $54.7 billion. Australia’s merchandise exports, primarily composed of crude petroleum and confidential items (mainly alumina), grew 20.9 per cent in 2008 to $12.1 billion. Investment remains a strong feature of the economic relationship, with two-way investment valued at $813 billion by the end of 2008.

Building on the outcomes of the Australia–United States Ministerial Trade Talks (AUSMINTT) held in New Jersey in June 2008—which included the promotion of Australian service providers to the United States and enhanced dialogue across the forward trade agenda—the department worked to deepen policy engagement with the new administration on key multilateral and regional priorities, particularly the WTO Doha Round, APEC and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. A mutual recognition agreement between Australian and Texan engineers was signed in September 2008, with the support of the Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) Working Group on Professional Services.

FIGURE 10. Australia’s trade in goods and services with the United States

FIGURE 10. Australia’s trade in goods and services with the United States

The department monitored closely the US economic stimulus package that was part of the US administration’s response to the global economic crisis in terms of possible effects on Australian business. We conveyed the Government’s concerns to the United States about its ‘Buy American’ provisions and reintroduction of the Dairy Export Incentive Program, highlighting the need for trade liberalisation in responding to the economic downturn. The department also assisted the Government’s efforts to preserve Australia’s interests during the restructuring of the US auto industry (see sub-output 1.1.8).

Photo - See caption below for description
Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr Smith and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meet in Washington on 9 April 2009.
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

The department worked with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to pursue market access issues and opportunities for a range of Australian agricultural products. Technical discussions on specific agricultural market access issues have progressed, under the AUSFTA umbrella. We continued to advocate reform of US farm subsidies in so far as they affect Australian exporters, in particular the proposed US Dairy Assessment contained in the 2008 US Farm Bill.

The department continued to facilitate people-to-people links and cross-cultural exchange between Australia and the United States through support for the Australian Political Exchange Council’s hosting of delegations of young US political, community and corporate leaders at local, state and national levels in September 2008 and May 2009. We continued to contribute to the governance of the Australian–American Fulbright Commission and to sponsor a Fulbright Professional Award in Australia–United States Alliance Studies. We engaged with academic institutions and think tanks, including the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

We coordinated commemorations in August 2008 of the 100th anniversary of the 1908 Great White Fleet’s voyage from the United States to Australia. As part of the commemorations, Mr Smith launched ‘Great White Fleet to the Coral Sea: Naval Strategy and the Development of Australia-United States Relations 1900 –1945’, by David Lee and Russell Parkin, a study published by the department on the development of Australia–US relations in the period 1900–1945.

The department coordinated a whole-of-government approach to Australia’s engagement with the United States through our leadership of the inter-departmental US Policy Group. The group enhanced coordination among government agencies across the breadth and depth of the bilateral relationship, particularly during the US administration’s transition period. We worked cooperatively with the United States over its introduction, in January 2009, of the Electronic System for Visa Authorisation, required of all eligible Australian passport holders visiting the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.


The department supported the Government’s productive engagement with Canada across a broad range of policy areas, particularly the global economic crisis and the important role of the G20 in responding to the crisis. We expanded our engagement with Canada on climate change and energy, including through representations that contributed to Canada’s decision to join the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute—an initiative announced by the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, in September 2008—as a founding member (see sub-output 1.1.9).

The defence and intelligence relationship deepened, particularly in the context of both countries’ military and humanitarian commitments to securing and rebuilding Afghanistan. Afghanistan was a major feature of discussion during visits we supported by the then Minister for Defence, Mr Fitzgibbon, and an Australian Parliamentary delegation, led by the President of the Senate.

The department focused on public diplomacy activities that would inform and influence the views of key stakeholders in Canada on issues of core policy priority to Australia. The ‘Australia Week’ program in Toronto in 2009 included two policy forums, one on climate change and emissions trading and the other on Asia-Pacific issues. The forums attracted 170 senior representatives from a range of organisations, business and academia and positioned Australia as a key partner for Canada in policy development. We fostered private sector institutional links between Australia and Canada by hosting a visit by the CEO of the Conference Board of Canada under the Special Visits Program (see sub-output 3.1.2).

Latin America and the Caribbean

The department worked to implement the Government’s commitment to expand Australia’s engagement with Latin American countries and to support our growing trade, investment and people-to-people links. We coordinated visits by the Prime Minister, Mr Smith and Mr Crean to Peru in November 2008 for the APEC Ministerial and Leaders’ meetings and a visit by Mr Smith to Mexico. The department also supported visits to Australia by ministers from Chile, Brazil and Colombia. Cuba opened an Embassy in Australia in October 2008.

The department coordinated the visit to Australia in August 2008 of Brazil’s Minister of External Relations, Mr Celso Amorim, for talks with Mr Smith and Mr Crean. A key outcome from the visit was agreement that Australia and Brazil would develop a plan of action for an enhanced partnership. We facilitated extensive contacts between Australian ministers and their Brazilian counterparts and also between senior officials working towards responses to the global economic crisis and pushing for the conclusion of the Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations. We supported a visit by the Treasurer, Mr Wayne Swan, to Sao Paulo in November 2008 for a G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting.

The department facilitated deeper bilateral links with Mexico through its support of a successful visit by Mr Smith in November 2008. A key outcome of the visit was the signing of a memorandum of understanding on education cooperation and the reaching of agreement to intensify political exchanges. We worked with Mexican counterparts to finalise the Australia–Mexico Joint Experts Group (JEG) Report on strengthening bilateral economic relations. In consultation with Austrade, we successfully lobbied Mexico to improve tendering procedures for coal with the aim of increasing Australian coal exports. In consultation with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, we assisted Australian meat exporters with shipments detained at Mexican ports because of incorrect labelling. We also engaged Mexican officials to further Australia’s interests, mainly over the G20 process, but also on the global economic crisis, climate change, the United Nations and the International Whaling Commission.

Entry into force of the Australia–Chile Free Trade Agreement (ACl–FTA) on 6 March 2009 marked a major step forward in Australia’s relations both with Chile, and, more generally, with Latin America. This is the first FTA Australia has concluded with any country in Latin America. We led the negotiation of the FTA and supported the visit, in July 2008, by Chile’s then Foreign Minister, Mr Alejandro Foxley, for the signing of the agreement (see sub-output 1.1.7). That visit also marked the signing of three agreements with Australian educational organisations, with the objective of increasing the number of Chilean scholarship students enrolling in Australian tertiary institutions. We worked to expand links with Chile in new areas of cooperation, including innovation and drought management. The department also intensified engagement with Chile on multilateral issues, including whaling, fisheries management and the Antarctic.

The department facilitated increased high-level contact with Argentina, a G20 member, on responses to the global economic crisis and efforts to conclude the Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations. We supported events to mark the inauguration of direct Qantas flights between Sydney and Buenos Aires in November 2008. Enhanced transport links between Australia and Latin America are an important component in building stronger commercial and people-to-people relations with the region as a whole. We maintained good links with Uruguay, particularly on trade policy issues, and helped support a visit to Australia by a senior adviser to the President of Paraguay.


  Exports Exports     Imports Imports  
Goods and services (a) 2007
Trend growth 2003–2008
Trend growth 2003–2008
United States (b) 15,876 18,264 4.6   32,084 36,477 6.3
Canada 2,532 2,323 1.3   2,747 3,430 7.6
Mexico 735 735 10.6   1,161 1,406 18.5
Total NAFTA (b) 19,143 21,322 4.3   35,992 41,313 6.8
Central America & Carribbean (d) 319 277 7.4   894 992 12.0
Brazil (b) (c) 869 1,581 23.9   917 1,251 20.2
Chile 319 498 27.9   538 929 41.3
Argentina (c) 115 292 23.2   261 366 13.4
Total South America (b) (c) 1,354 2,432 20.2   1,727 2,483 21.5
Total Americas (b) 21,597 25,083 6.1   39,047 45,295 7.5

(a) Goods data on a recorded trade basis, services data on a balance of payments basis
(b) Excludes aircraft imports from September 2008 onwards
(c) Goods data only. Services data is not published by the ABS for these countries
(d) Excluding Mexico
Sources: DFAT Stars database and ABS Catalogue 5368.0

The department intensified efforts to deepen Australia’s political and economic links with Peru. During his visit to Peru for the APEC Leaders’ meeting, the Prime Minister announced that Australia would re-establish its diplomatic presence in Lima in 2010. We facilitated numerous ministerial and officials-level exchanges with Peru, including discussion of the participation by both countries in the negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (see sub-output 1.1.7). We also supported a visit to Australia by Ms Patricia Teullet, the CEO of COMEXPERU and member of the APEC Business Advisory Council, under the Special Visits Program (see sub-output 3.1.2). That visit helped to advance the growing commercial links between Australia and Peru.

The department coordinated a Guest of Government visit by Colombia’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Tourism, Mr Luis Guillermo Plata Paez, in March 2009. A key outcome from the visit was agreement to negotiate a memorandum of understanding to strengthen trade and investment. The department also supported an Australian Parliamentary Delegation visit to Colombia in August 2008, which was reciprocated by a Colombian Parliamentary Delegation visit to Australia in June 2009.

Australia’s Ambassador in Buenos Aires attended the Forum for East Asia–Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC) Senior Officials’ Meeting in Buenos Aires in April 2009. That meeting fostered cooperation between the two regions and helped lay the groundwork for the FEALAC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting scheduled for Tokyo in early 2010.

We continued efforts to build deeper links with states in the Caribbean region, including on such issues as climate change and responses to the global economic crisis. We supported Australian companies interested in exploring commercial opportunities in the region. Trinidad and Tobago will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November 2009, and the department has begun preparations for that major event.

The department continued to assist the Council on Australia Latin America Relations which supported initiatives in business, education, tourism and cultural promotion, complementing the work of the department in meeting its objective of strengthening engagement with Latin America (see sub-output 3.1.2).


Photo - See caption below for description
Minister for Trade, Mr Crean, meeting the US Trade Representative, Mr Ron Kirk, in Washington, March 2009.
Photo: Auspic
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

Helping to deepen the Government’s engagement with the Obama Administration and ensuring US understanding and support for Australia’s major strategic interests and priorities will remain a key goal for the department. AUSMIN, which Australia is due to host in 2010, will be an important forum for achieving this.

The department will pursue Australia’s trade policy priorities with the United States through AUSFTA implementation and in advancing our multilateral, regional and bilateral trade interests, including seeking US support for conclusion of the Doha Round. The department will promote continuing close cooperation with the United States to deal with the effects of the global economic crisis, including within the G20. We will continue to advocate improved market access for Australian industry and campaign against protectionist measures that restrict Australia’s trade, including through AUSMINTT 2010.

Advancing engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean will be major objectives for the department. Support for high-level visits to both regions and the development of outcomes which could result from those visits—such as finalisation of the plan of action with Brazil and revitalising the Joint Trade and Investment Commission with Mexico—will be major priorities. We will support increased Australian trade and investment and will have the first meeting of the Joint Free Trade Agreement Committee with Chile to assess progress in the implementation of the ACl–FTA. The department will seek to conclude the memorandum of understanding on trade and investment with Colombia and develop and deepen relations with other countries in Latin America. We will also support development of initiatives for development assistance, education cooperation and trade in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) scheduled to take place in Trinidad and Tobago in November 2009 will provide important opportunities for the department to advance initiatives to expand Australia’s links with the Caribbean.


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