Secretary's Speech: Australia's Current Priorities for International Treaty Negotiations

Canberra, 13 March 2002

Introduction

Mr Chair, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to this seminar on Treaties in the Global Environment which is being sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

In these opening remarks, I would like to provide a context for the two days of discussions by highlighting a number of important treaty-level negotiations in which Australia is currently engaged.

These negotiations illustrate the diversity and challenges of the treaty-making process – and the important role that treaties play in advancing and consolidating bilateral and multilateral relations among states.

Australia is currently negotiating 85 separate international agreements of treaty status.

They cover a wide range of subject matter, and are at varying stages of completion.

Some are bilateral, others multilateral or regionally based.

I propose to focus on three treaty-level negotiations, each covering topics of vital importance to Australia's interests. 

They are:

Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism

The attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001 have brought cooperation against terrorism to the very top of the international agenda.

There are currently 12 UN anti-terrorism instruments covering a range of matters including hostage taking, terrorist bombings and terrorist financing.

Australia is a party to 9 of the 12 instruments.

In the year 2000, negotiations commenced in the UN on a Comprehensive Convention Against Terrorism to "fill the gaps", but not to replace the existing conventions.

Australia has served as Vice-Chair, coordinating discussion on the most difficult aspects of the negotiations: the definition of the offence of terrorism, and the scope of the Convention.

These issues are politically charged, and have defied consensus for many years.

Members of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference argue that an armed struggle for national liberation, or against occupation or racist regimes, should not be considered terrorism, and are seeking a broad reference in the Convention to reflect this position.

They would classify such struggles as lawful armed conflict in the pursuit of the right of peoples to self-determination.

Many countries, including Australia, consider that an exclusion in these terms would create too many unacceptable ambiguities.

There have been two negotiating sessions on the Convention since September 11.

Australia had shared the hope of many that the renewed international will to combat terrorism, post September 11, would result in these differences being resolved.

This has not proved to be the case, despite intensive efforts by Australia and the UN Secretary General to broker a compromise.

It has to be said that the outlook for concluding the treaty is not positive, particularly while the Israel-Palestine crisis deepens.

Nevertheless, concluding the Comprehensive Convention Against Terrorism is an important objective, and one for which Australia will continue to work.

More positively, the recently concluded Memorandum of Understanding on Combating International Terrorism between Australia and Indonesia demonstrates that results can often be achieved more quickly through bilateral, non-binding, but nonetheless effective arrangements.

World Trade Organisation

There is a more encouraging story to tell about the launch of the new round of global trade negotiations by WTO members in Doha last November.

For a medium-sized exporting country like Australia, rules-based multilateral trade liberalisation offers, overall,  the most effective route to improved access to global markets and secure trading conditions.

The Government's key goals for the Doha Round are to achieve market access gains in agriculture, services and industrial products. 

The mandates for industrial products and services provide a good basis for further liberalisation.

Negotiations should begin this year to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers on industrial products.

And negotiations on services will commence early next year.

The most difficult negotiations are likely to be on agriculture, as well as environment and geographical indications.

Australia will continue efforts - begun under the auspices of the Cairns Group during the previous round of multilateral trade negotiations - to ensure that the Doha Round phases out agricultural export subsidies, and reforms other trade-distorting measures.

The challenge will be to realise significant gains from the agricultural negotiations by the mandated deadline of January 2005.

At Doha, Ministers also committed to negotiate on the relationship between WTO rules and multilateral environment agreements.

A key objective for Australia will be to ensure that multilateral environment agreements are not used as a way of increasing trade protection.

Australia will continue to oppose moves to extend the level of geographical indications protection currently accorded to wine and spirits to other products, including food. 

This kind of protection could deprive Australian agricultural producers of the opportunity to use generic terms such as ‘basmati' rice or ‘kalamata' olives.

Timor Sea Treaty

The Government is negotiating an historic bilateral treaty on the Timor Sea with the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) and East Timorese representatives. 

An international legal regime governing the development of seabed resources between Australia and East Timor is a key objective for Australia.

The Timor Sea Treaty will be based on the ‘Timor Sea Arrangement', which was endorsed by Australian Ministers, UNTAET and East Timorese representatives in Dili last July.

We hope to have the new treaty ready for signature on East Timor's independence on 20 May this year.  Negotiations are underway in Darwin as I speak.

There are strong commercial, legal and foreign policy reasons to conclude a treaty by this date.

It will provide a 90-10 revenue split in favour of East Timor, instead of the 50-50 split in the earlier Timor Gap Treaty between Australia and Indonesia.

This will give East Timor a secure and predictable revenue base, thus lessening its dependency on aid.

It will also provide legal and commercial certainty for investors, to enable continued development of the valuable resources of the Timor Sea. 

And significantly, it will demonstrate – in important, symbolic terms - close relations between Australia and this fledgling nation.

All three sets of negotiations that I have mentioned demonstrate the crucial role that treaty-making plays in securing and promoting Australia's long-term economic, political and foreign policy interests.

Between negotiation and ratification …

Of course, you will be aware that completing negotiations on a treaty is not the end of the story: they do not enter into force until ratification requirements are met.

I will conclude, therefore, by mentioning briefly two treaties where the texts have been finalised and countries are now able to consider ratifying.

These treaties are the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCC,  and the Statute of Rome which establishes the International Criminal Court.

The Government regards the threat posed by climate change as very important, and is committed to maintaining a strong domestic climate change program.

Almost $1 billion have been invested in programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol was finalised at the 3rd Conference of the UNFCCC parties at Kyoto, Japan in 1997, after extensive negotiations.

Rules and procedures for implementing the Protocol were finalised at the 7th Conference of the UNFCCC Parties (COP7) in Marrakesh in November 2001. 

The Protocol must be ratified by at least 55 countries, including countries with targets representing at least 55 per cent of 1990 greenhouse gas emissions, before it can enter into force.

Forty six countries have ratified, and many others are completing domestic ratification processes this year.

A number of countries, including the EU and Japan, have signalled their intention to ratify before the World Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2002.

Reaching the 55 per cent of 1990 greenhouse gas emissions threshold, however, will be difficult in the absence of the largest emitter, the United States. 

The United States is key to global efforts to deal with the serious, long-term threat posed by climate change.  Although still a party to the UNFCCC, the U.S. has stood aside from the Protocol since early 2001, and will not ratify it.

One month ago, President Bush announced a comprehensive range of U.S. measures to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of its economy. 

The Government has welcomed the U.S. initiative, elements of which appear consistent with Australia's long-standing views on how climate change can best be addressed. 

In particular, the Government supports the emphasis in the President's statement on the need for a workable climate change regime to be economically manageable, and to include developing countries.

And the Government believes that effective action to address climate change needs to include all major emitters, including the United States and developing countries.

Australia will maintain close dialogue with the United States and other key players such as the EU.

At the same time, Australia will continue to underline the importance of engaging developing countries on the level of their future emissions of greenhouse gases. 

Australia and the US have recently announced the establishment of a bilateral ‘Climate Action Partnership'.

This ‘Partnership' will focus on practical measures to address climate change -  including emissions measurement, climate science, initiatives in sectors such as energy and agriculture, and engagement with business.

It will also address collaborating with developing countries to help build their capacity to deal with climate change.

The Government is analysing the implication of the COP7 package for Australia before making a decision on ratifying the Kyoto Protocol.

Obviously the approach outlined by President Bush will be a factor in developing Australia's climate change strategy.

As I already mentioned, the EU, Japan and a number of other countries with Kyoto targets have announced that they intend to ratify the Protocol.

So the required threshold of 55 per cent of 1990 emissions - for the Protocol to enter into force - will depend on whether or not Russia (with 17.4 per cent of the total) ratifies.

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

I note that your distinguished Chair has commented in his Sydney Morning Herald column about the International Criminal Court.

You are probably aware that the Department does not necessarily share his assessment of the Court.

This seminar, however, underlines - and is consistent with - the Government's commitment to encouraging a broad public debate about the Court.

Last year, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade commended the Government for its contribution to the development of the International Criminal Court.

The same Committee recommended twice that the Government ratify the Statute of Rome as soon as possible.

The Government remains committed to ratifying the Rome Statute, once it has been able to consider any recommendations that the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties may make in relation to the Statute.

In addition to awaiting the outcome of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties' deliberations, the Government must also wait until Parliament has passed legislation to enable Australia to meet its obligations as a State Party, and to take full advantage of the Statute's "complementarity regime".

It appears almost certain – with 55 of a required 60 States having ratified – that the Statute will enter into force this year; and earlier this year rather than later.

The Preparatory Commission of the International Criminal Court has set a September 2002 date for the first meeting of the Court's Assembly of States Parties.

Australia will only be able to participate actively at this Assembly if we have ratified the Statute in time to be a State Party by the time the meeting is held.

The Government still hopes this will be possible, but also thinks it is important that the process for ratifying accord fully with its reformed treaty-making policy.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a general point I should like to make is that the treaty-making agenda in which Australia is engaged at any time reflects the security, political, economic and social environment in which we operate internationally as a country.

Twelve months ago, I would have highlighted a different list of examples of our treaty-making activity at that time.

It is entirely natural for Australia's priorities in treaty making to continue to shift in response to changing international and domestic circumstances.

I think you have before you a very stimulating and challenging agenda for the next two days, with the opportunity for some spirited discussions with some of Australia's foremost experts on treaties issues.

I wish you well in that activity.

Thank you.