Thursday, April 21, 2005


All aboard the Free Trade Train.

Fran: And we welcome the Prime Minister Mr. Howard on the line from Tokyo. Good Morning Mr. Howard

PM:    Good Morning Fran.

Fran:    Mr. Howard, You’ve had a series of meetings in China two days ago where you’ve obtained agreement to look into the merits of a free trade deal with that country, and just yesterday the Japanese have agreed, to agree, to consider evaluating the merits of a free trade deal also. Mr. Howard do you consider this trip’s been successful?

PM:    Certainly Fran. The government’s objective is to create a free trade with the whole Asia Pacific region and these two countries are very big and important economies, and so it’s vital that they be part of this plan.

Fran:    Some people, and I’m thinking of the opposition spokesman on trade Mr. Crean, have been critical of the government's tactics. They say that you’ve conceded too much up front, that you won’t have any bargaining power later on.

PM:    I’m afraid that Mr. Crean has been out of government for so long that he’s not in touch with the realities of how business is being done these days.

Fran:    Are his criticisms justified Mr. Howard?

PM:    Look Fran. I don’t know whether you’ve been watching the TV news reports but these are Asian people. Inscrutable Orientals. It’s barely possible to tell them apart, let alone know what they’re thinking. And they’re very smart too. The fellow that I spent most of my time negotiating with from their side could speak two languages. They would spend minutes, in a huddle, conversing in their unintelligible language. Planning, scheming, before their polymath would speak on their behalf. It's designed to unnerve, and it goes on like this for hours Fran. It was a very difficult set of negotiations.

Fran:    So are Mr. Crean’s criticisms justified?

PM:    Things are done very differently these days Fran, compared with when Mr. Crean was in government. When you’re dealing with such clever, impossible to read people, you’ve got to think on your feet. You’ve got to introduce new and unfamiliar tactics that catch them off their guard. These days the Government’s preferred tactic is to make all the major concessions up front. We’ve found it wildly successful. It leaves them, quite literally flummoxed. It also gives us the advantage, because we can use the whole of the allotted time to hammer away at the things we want from them. It’s an incredibly efficient use of time and it’s the reason why we’ve been able to conduct so many free trade deals of late, with Singapore, Thailand, the US and so on.

Fran:    So where to from here Mr. Howard?

PM:    We’ve been thinking Fran, since this trip has been such a success and while we’re in the area, we’ll visit a few more countries and conclude a few more free trade deals in the region

Fran:    So who’s next?

PM:    We’re thinking Korea.

Fran:    North or South?

PM:    Whoever we can get a meeting with first.

Fran:    And after that?

PM:    Well I was looking at a map this morning, and I thought Hawaii.

Fran:    But Hawaii is part of the United States Mr. Howard. We’ve already got a Free Trade Agreement with them.

PM:    Well then we’ll renew our vows. The important thing Fran is that the Australian people know that we’re out here doing things for the benefit of Australia’s national interest.

Fran:    Well good luck and thank you Mr. Howard, we’re out of time.

PM:    Thank you Fran.

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