Australia-Japan 60th Anniversary Commerce Agreement

  • Speech, check against delivery

Minister Kishi, Minister Ciobo, parliamentarians, Ambassador and Mrs Court, friends of Australia, friends of Japan.

It is a great pleasure to be back here in Tokyo during the 60th anniversary year of the Australia-Japan Commerce Agreement.

In 1957, the Commerce Agreement had its critics – the decision to normalise trade between our two countries took courage.

The Australian Government, led by Sir Robert Menzies, and the Japanese Government, led by Prime Minister Kishi were determined to look to the future rather than be constrained by the past.

The Agreement became the cornerstone of the strong bilateral partnership between our two countries.

It formalised and entrenched the shift toward Japan as an important export market and source for manufactured imports.

Indeed, just one decade after its signing, Japan overtook the United Kingdom to become Australia's largest export market.

The humbly named Commerce Agreement was not just ahead of its time – it represented an enlightened way of thinking which has since enabled East Asia to emerge as the most economically dynamic region in the world.

When we signed the 1957 Agreement, East Asia and Australia accounted for about 10 per cent of global GDP.

Our region now accounts for around 27 per cent of global GDP and that could be as high as 40 per cent in a decade's time.

Trade and investment between countries is not just about growing the economy.

Deepening economic relations goes hand-in-hand with greater respect for rules and international law, without which trust and transparency between countries is not possible.

Trade and investment also complements people from our countries getting to know each other better and better.

To give a contemporary example, about 1,500 Australian undergraduates have chosen to live, study and undertake work experience in Japan under the first four years of our New Colombo Plan from 2014-17.

These become the powerful personal links between our citizens that will endure over a lifetime.

As Australia's economic relationship with Japan deepened, we developed remarkably similar views of the region.

We value peace, stability and a liberal rules-based order as essential for continued prosperity.

As both countries share a common ally in the United States - also committed to these principles - it became natural for Australia and Japan to become strategic partners.

Indeed, Australia and Japan have a Special Strategic Partnership and Japan has become our closest security partner in East Asia.

Together, we face many challenges as we look forward:

  • the behaviour of North Korea and the threat it poses;
  • managing maritime disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law; and
  • the need to re-make the case for open markets and continued reform, to name just three.

Defence Minister Senator Marise Payne and I will be discussing these and other issues with our counterpart ministers tomorrow during the 2+2 foreign and defence ministers' meeting here in Tokyo.

When Australia and Japan signed the Commerce Agreement, we could not have imagined the eventual depth of our bilateral relationship nor the economic miracles that have occurred in the region more broadly.

However an even more prosperous future is not guaranteed and neither is peace and stability certain.

Both our countries recognise that together there is much to do and far to go over the next 60 years.

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