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Australia October 21, 1997

Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia Jean-Jack Queyranne, Minister for Overseas Affairs, France

During their meeting on 21 October, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, and the French Minister for Overseas Affairs, Jean-Jack Queyranne, noted with satisfaction the increasingly close and constructive relations between Australia and France.

The two ministers referred to the positive developments in the political relationship, including Mr. Downer's very successful visit to France in September 1996 and to New Caledonia in December 1996. Mr. Queyranne recalled with fondness his time as President of the French/Australian Parliamentary Friendship Group, and noted that this was his third visit to Australia. Mr. Queyranne confirmed that French Foreign Minister Vedrine had made an in-principle commitment to visit Australia in 1988.

Both ministers agreed that the bilateral economic relationship was solid and growing strongly. French investment in Australia was expanding and reached $2.83 billion in 1995/96. There were now some 213 affiliates of French companies in Australia employing around 40,000 people. Tourism in both directions was buoyant. While French merchandise exports to Australia continued to rise, Australian merchandise exports to France remained steady, although service exports to France were growing.

The two ministers expressed their satisfaction with the positive evolution in bilateral defence relations. They noted in particular that the level of military cooperation between New Caledonia and Australia had been excellent over the past year, with a number of new initiatives under consideration. They also referred to expanding cooperation, along with New Zealand, in relief arrangements for natural and air disasters and surveillance of the fisheries resources of the Pacific Islands region.

Mr. Queyranne and Mr. Downer welcomed the growing links between French and Australian research and educational institutions, including their contribution to the network of academic contacts in the South Pacific. They also expressed their enthusiasm about the prospects for greater Franco-Australian marine geoscientific cooperation, including the launching of a study into a joint project in the Tasman Sea and the shared use of a regional multipurpose marine research vessel.

In his capacity as Minister for Overseas Affairs, Mr. Queyranne said he was particularly pleased to see the excellent level of cooperation between Australia and the French Territories in the Pacific Islands region. He referred to the Memorandum of Understanding on business cooperation between New Caledonia and Queensland, signed in November 1996, which had added further impetus to the bilateral commercial and trading relationship. Both ministers also commented favourably on the positive evolution in relations between Australia and French Polynesia. They confirmed that, at the initiative of French Polynesia, both France and Australia would contribute to French Polynesia's hosting in Papeete next year of a regional youth conference under the auspices of the newly named Pacific Community (the former South Pacific Commission). Mr. Downer also indicated that Australia would look favourably at making a contribution to Wallis and Futuna's training needs as part of the territory's efforts to integrate further into the region.

The two ministers discussed the political situation in New Caledonia. Mr. Queyranne noted that the signing of the Matignon Accords in 1988, which provided for a referendum in 1998 on the political future of New Caledonia, had ushered in a period of peace and mutual respect among the different communities of the territory. Mr. Queyranne highlighted the French government's desire to see the early reconvening of political talks with the different parties in New Caledonia.

Mr. Downer and Mr. Queyranne agreed on a number of new aid activities for Franco-Australian cooperation in the Pacific Islands region. They announced that Australia and France would contribute to the regional renewable energy program at the Pacific Community and that both countries would seek more formalised collaboration in agricultural, scientific and natural resource management research linking the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research with two French institutions, CIRAD and ORSTROM. Both ministers also agreed to contribute to funding a hostel in Noumea for ni-Vanuatu students studying there under French and Australian scholarships, thereby expanding existing collaboration in education in the Pacific.

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