Prime Minister Scott Morrison is calling for an upgrade to the already comprehensive free-trade relationship between Australia and the United States, amid rising geopolitical competition with Beijing.
In an address to the Australian American Leadership Dialogue on Aug. 11, the prime minister spoke of the military ramp-up Australia was undergoing and stressed that it would not seek a “free ride” with the United States but would do its part.
“I’ve said so many times, including on the White House lawn, Australia may look to the United States, but we never leave it to the United States,” Morrison said.
“We’re investing our wealth and treasure to make Australia stronger so we can be ready to defend our nation and a rules-based order in our region, a world that favours freedom and to be able to do so alongside those who share our values and beliefs. Most significantly, the United States,” he added.
The prime minister noted that while the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) was one of the most comprehensive agreements in the world, he called for an “upgrading” of the agreement.
“Unlike the Cold War, geostrategic competition in the coming decades will be engaged in the economic realm. Our recent experience with economic coercion underlines that,” he said.
“That’s why I believe our bilateral strategic cooperation must extend to economic matters. We should consider a regular Strategic Economic Dialogue between our most senior key economic and trade officials,” he added. “Now, more than ever, we need to be working closely together on the common economic challenges that confront us.”
Australia-China diplomatic relations have dovetailed over the past year as Beijing rolled out an economic coercion campaign targeting key Australian exports to the country.
The campaign began after Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
In his speech, Morrison reiterated that action on climate change would be achieved via technological advancement, particularly in developing nations.
“Developing countries comprise two-thirds of the world’s emissions and are rising. China’s emissions exceed those of the OECD combined. If we do not solve the climate change in developing countries, we, the world, will fail,” he said.
“Now, as Special Envoy (John) Kerry argued within days of being in the job, if not weeks, he said the US could reduce its emissions to zero, but if China doesn’t then we achieve nothing, and he was dead right.”
Morrison delivered the address as Australia’s foreign and defence ministers plan visits to the United States, India, and Indonesia.
They are expected to head to Washington D.C. next month for annual talks with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.