(Australian Associated Press)
Former prime minister John Howard has hailed the foresight of Australia and Japan’s post-WWII leaders in putting the bitterness of conflict behind them to build trade ties.
It’s 60 years since Robert Menzies and his Japanese counterpart Nobusuke Kishi – the grandfather of current leader Shinzo Abe – signed the Japan-Australia commerce agreement.
Mr Howard and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo are marking the anniversary at a function with the Japanese Ambassador Sumio Kusaka in Canberra on Tuesday.
Menzies and Kishi signed the deal only 12 years after the end of WWII – a conflict in which Australia had come under attack from the Japanese on home soil on multiple occasions.
Australian soldiers also fought the Japanese in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific islands.
“This was no mean feat,” Mr Howard said of the deal.
“Many members of the coalition government at the time, such as Reginald Schwartz, a senior minister and Alick Downer, father of Australia’s longest serving foreign minister, had been prisoners of war.”
He noted some sections of the Returned Services League opposed the agreement, along with the Labor Party as well as some parts of Australian industry.
“The trade relationship between Australia and Japan immeasurably strengthened our countries’ economic performance over the following decades,” Mr Howard said, adding that it was only in 2008 that China surpassed Japan as Australia’s principal export market.
Mr Ciobo said existing Australia’s economic relationship with Japan was the result of a “grand vision” and “remarkable political bravery”.
“Free trade and open markets are the ticket to prosperity and key to driving future jobs and growth,” he said.
Australia and Japan reached a free trade deal in 2014.