Photo Credit: Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Article by James Grimes, ANZCCJ Secretariat
60 years ago today, history was made in the relationship between Australia and Japan. On the 6th of July 1957, despite the forces of the then not so distant history and the weight of public opinion, our two countries came together to sign a trade agreement that would shape the direction of ongoing relations between Australia and Japan for decades to come. Indeed, even today the legacy of this agreement can still be felt and understood as one of the earliest foundations of our great friendship and strong partnership.
The remarkableness of this achievement cannot be understated. At the time Australian Government officials faced a punishing uphill task in convincing the Australian public of the value of any trade deal with Japan, for at that time memories of the recent conflict were still fresh. However, these officials, such as Minister for Trade John McEwen, realised that our future was, and is always, going to be linked intimately with Asia. As a result and thanks to the foresight of those who were brave enough to look beyond and see what could bind us together, rather than what could separate us, we broke new ground and made an extraordinary dream of a more prosperous and secure region become reality.
The treaty was the first of its kind for Japan, significantly lowering tariffs and granting favoured nation status between much of the trade between Australia and Japan. When it came into effect, for many it was like walking into the unknown. We did not know what the exact impacts would be and the way events would play out. As fortune would have it, the agreement not only helped to pave the way forward for both Australia and Japan’s ongoing economic growth, but it also laid the foundations for a truly special relationship between our two countries for decades to come.
Within a decade, Japan had overtaken the United Kingdom to become Australia’s largest export market and one of our most significant trading partners. The agreement was instrumental in establishing the relationships and mutual trust required for further treaties, such as the 1963 rework of the original 1957 agreement, the 1976 Basic Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, the 1995 Join Declaration on the Australia-Japan Partnership, and then most recently the 2014 Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement. The 2014 agreement deserves to be regarded as the spiritual successor to the original 1957 treaty, for as one of the most liberalising trade agreements Japan has ever signed, it too follows in the tradition of breaking down barriers and reinforcing our two nation’s position as key partners and good friends.
Even today, 60 years later, Japan is still Australia’s third highest trading partner, with two-way goods and services trade valued at over $60 billion dollars. The goods and services that move between our countries are as varied as our nations themselves, covering natural resources, agricultural products, automobiles, electronics, financial and legal services, education, as well as investment and the development of technology.
These connections have led to the creation of links that transcend commerce alone. Tourism between our two countries is booming, a trend that began in the late 50’s after the signing of the original commerce treaty. With the increased exposure to the idea of Japan as a partner and a friend, Australian airlines faced significant pressure as demand outstripped supply in regards to flights to and from Japan. This curiosity and desire to see and learn more about each other’s cultures is something that is still felt by people today.
We are two countries bound by shared values, common goals and a belief in the value of the rules-based international order. Our friendship has deepened over the past 60 years, and our ties have become stronger. Much of the work we have done together and the accomplishments we have achieved stem from the ground that was broken 60 years ago when Australia and Japan overcame adversity and the weight of history to step forward into a shared and bright future.
This legacy is one that we carry forward as we continue to work together, as partners, as friends, and as colleagues. The Chamber is excited to continue this tradition of fostering these ongoing relationships as we look forward to the next 60 years of Australian and Japanese relations.
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