TRADE minister Simon Birmingham and his Japanese counterpart Kajiyama Hiroshi have pledged to work towards a stable trade environment in the Asia-Pacific, amidst fears COVID-19 may lead to a push towards protectionism.

The two ministers this week held a videoconference to discuss “the serious global crisis” caused by COVID-19 and affirmed “the enduring commitment of both sides to work together in support of an open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific economic order”.

They also “determined to continue enhancing bilateral economic cooperation” discussed during the second Ministerial Economic Dialogue held in Melbourne in early January.

This included efforts to reform the rules-based multilateral trading system, infrastructure, the digital economy and emerging technology.

“Noting their shared concern that protectionism is exacerbated by the challenges posed by COVID-19, ministers reaffirmed that they will continue to work towards delivering a free, fair, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, to keep markets open, and to uphold the rules-based multilateral system,” a statement from Minister Birmingham’s office read.

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“Ministers expressed their appreciation for continued and smooth trade and investment between Australia and Japan, despite the economic impact caused by COVID-19.”

The ministers committed to refrain from imposing unnecessary export prohibitions or restrictions and to uphold supply chain connectivity.

It was also agreed that emergency measures to tackle COVID-19 “must be targeted, proportionate, transparent, and temporary”, and avoid creating “unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global and regional supply chains, and are consistent with WTO rules”. 

According to Minister Birmingham’s office, COVID-19 has highlighted that supply chains that are less vulnerable to shocks are crucial to economic growth and regional economic integration.

The ministers also acknowledged the contribution of the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and reaffirmed a commitment to resolve India’s outstanding issues and sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership this year.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Japan was Australia’s second-largest trading partner in 2017, with two-way goods and services trade valued at $71.8bn.

Japan is Australia’s second-largest export market after China.

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