Aus­tralia is keen on boost­ing free and open trade with East Africa

The Aus­tralian High Com­mis­sioner to Kenya, Tan­za­nia and Uganda and am­bas­sador to Bu­rundi and So­ma­lia spoke with HAL­IMA ABDALLAH about her coun­try’s in­ter­ests in the re­gion

The East African - - OUT­LOOK -

Aus­tralia is look­ing to African coun­tries for bi­lat­eral re­la­tions, but its im­mi­gra­tion rules are strin­gent. Is your gov­ern­ment ready to make com­pro­mises?

The rules are strin­gent be­cause we have had smug­glers bring­ing in peo­ple in boats into Aus­tralia. We do not sup­port any form of hu­man traf­fick­ing. That is why the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment is keen on en­sur­ing that its bor­der se­cu­rity is tight. Over­all, our im­mi­gra­tion and visa sys­tem are ro­bust. Aus­tralia wants to pro­tect its bor­ders and its cit­i­zens.

How­ever, the im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem is fair. There is a huge African di­as­pora pop­u­la­tion in the coun­try. We have a refugee pro­gramme. The Aus­tralian High Com­mis­sion in Nairobi as­sesses ap­pli­ca­tions from refugees from East Africa for re­set­tle­ment. We also give stu­dents visas.

What are Aus­tralia’s in­ter­ests in East Africa?

There are a num­ber of Aus­tralian com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in East Africa. In Kenya, there are about 30 com­pa­nies in dif­fer­ent sec­tors. In Tan­za­nia, they are in the ex­trac­tives sec­tor. We also have a num­ber of com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in Uganda and Rwanda and we want that num­ber to grow. A big part of our work is to pro­mote Aus­tralian ex­per­tise and tech­nol­ogy.

Food and bev­er­ages is an­other area of in­ter­est. We feel there is a grow­ing mar­ket for Aus­tralian wine in East Africa.

There are also Aus­tralian com­pa­nies in re­new­able en­ergy. That is a big part of the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment’s agenda in Africa: To deepen trade and in­vest­ment link­ages and find op­por­tu­ni­ties for Aus­tralian com­pa­nies to in­vest and find out what the re­gion can of­fer for ex­port to Aus­tralia. It is all about free, open trade and in­vest­ment. Our job is to pro­mote a two-way trade.

Be­sides flow­ers, what other agri­cul­tural pro­duce are you in­ter­ested in from East Africa?

Av­o­cado grow­ers in Kenya have ap­proached me re­cently ask­ing about mar­kets for fresh pro­duce, but we do have those in Aus­tralia. We have a sim­i­lar cli­mate in some parts and that means we can grow fruits and veg­eta­bles, in­clud­ing bananas, pineap­ples and even macadamia. I am look­ing at gaps where Aus­tralia could im­port.

Maybe Aus­tralia could in­vest in value ad­di­tion for cof­fee and tea in fu­ture, and be­come a mar­ket for Africa’s prod­ucts.

We also want to pro­mote the fashion in­dus­try in East Africa. I know there are women in Uganda mak­ing cot­ton bags for shops in Aus­tralia. This is small-scale, but I am sure there are op­por­tu­ni­ties, as Aus­tralians are keen on fashion.

So­ma­lia and South Su­dan have suf­fered pro­longed con­flict. There are also chal­lenges re­gard­ing re­spect for the rule of law and hu­man rights across East Africa. Is Aus­tralia po­si­tion­ing it­self on these is­sues in any way?

Our mis­sion is to sup­port gov­ern­ments to be demo­cratic, trans­par­ent and to pro­tect and up­hold hu­man rights for ev­ery cit­i­zen, re­gard­less of their race, gen­der or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. We sup­port open, free and fair elec­tions in East Africa as well as across the world. Our role is also to en­sure that there is a strong civil so­ci­ety and free­dom of the press.

Where we see those steps be­ing taken by gov­ern­ments, we cer­tainly will sup­port them. There are things we will speak out about to­gether with other diplo­matic mis­sions. It is not for us to say that ev­ery­thing has to be smooth and per­fect, be­cause coun­tries go through stages of demo­cratic devel­op­ment and growth.

In So­ma­lia, Aus­tralia pro­vides hu­man­i­tar­ian re­lief and re­silience-build­ing programmes, while be­ing cog­nisant of the fact that the coun­try has a num­ber of chal­leng-

Does it mean they con­tinue to be marginalised?

There is ob­vi­ously a his­tory in Aus­tralia from the time of Euro­pean set­tle­ments; things that hap­pened, treat­ment that was not ap­pro­pri­ate for orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants, tragic events, poli­cies and pro­cesses that hap­pened. The Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment and com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try are now keen to ac­knowl­edge the ex­is­tence of the Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple. From their his­tory, how they pre­served the land, their cul­ture, to the need to keep their cul­tures and lan­guages alive.

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