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Australia to Refocus Trade Policy

May 7, 2002

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SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ Australia is redrafting its foreign and trade policies to focus more tightly on Asian markets, the government said Tuesday.

``We’ve been looking and working quite energetically at strengthening the framework of our relationship with Japan, Korea and China,″ Trade Minister Mark Vaile said in Sydney.

Canberra will sign a pact to strengthen trade with the powerful 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations later this year, but it is increasingly looking to China’s emerging market.

China is the most populated country in the world and appears committed to economic integration with the global marketplace, Vaile said. ``So China certainly looms large in terms of one of our major trading partners.″

Once reliant on exports to Europe, Australia has boosted sales to Asia and North America. The United States and Japan are Australia’s top trading partners.

The government plans to redraft its trade and foreign policy later this year and will first invite public comment. The last time it updated the policy was in 1997.

In recent years, Australia has become frustrated with efforts by the World Trade Organization to regulate global markets and has begun looking to bilateral deals to boost trade.

Canberra is pursuing free-trade agreements with Singapore, Thailand and the United States.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio that the policy review also would focus on issues such as the fight against terror and efforts to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS.

In a speech in Canberra, Downer said the United States also would remain a key ally for Australia _ and would bolster regional stability.

``We make no apology for our alliance relationship with the United States and the close political relationship we have with the administration in Washington,″ Downer said.

``I’ve argued for all of my adult life that the engagement of the U.S. in the architecture of the Asia Pacific region is fundamental to the stability of the region,″ he added.

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