INTERVIEWS

Australia Actively Supported and Worked with B&H on its Accession to the World Trade Organisation

LJUBLJANAUPRS-predaja poverilnega pisma.....F: STANKO GRUDEN/STAAmbassador of Australia to BiH H.E. Mr David Stuart: “Bosnia and Herzegovina has some of the most remarkable scenery I have seen in Europe. Its natural resources, water in particular, with also agricultural potential, gives you a basis for economic growth. “

By: Maja Tuljković

1.     Dear Ambassador, how would you describe the level of bilateral cooperation and friendly relations between BiH and Australia? Are there any difficulties or challenges? 

Bosnia and Herzegovina and Australia enjoy warm and friendly relations. Approximately 27,000 Australians claim Bosnia and Herzegovina as their place of birth. There are no difficulties in relations between our Governments. An Australian parliamentary delegation led by then President of the Senate, Senator John Hogg, visited Bosnia and Herzegovina in October 2008. A return visit by a parliamentary delegation from Bosnia and Herzegovina took place in October 2009.

Australia values our cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina on a range of multilateral trade and security issues, and has actively supported and worked with Bosnia and Herzegovina on its accession to the World Trade Organisation. We commend the contribution made by Bosnia and Herzegovina in support of peace and stability in Afghanistan, where we have also sent soldiers and civilians as part of the effort by the international community to stabilise Afghanistan.

Australia recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina in May 1992, soon after independence. Bosnia and Herzegovina established resident diplomatic representation in Australia in late 1994 under a Chargé d’Affaires, and the first Ambassador presented credentials in 2000. The first Australian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, resident in Vienna, presented credentials in Sarajevo in November 1995. Australia opened an Honorary Consulate in Sarajevo in January 2005.

Australia has a continuing interest in efforts to maintain peace and build prosperity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After 1993, Australia contributed humanitarian assistance worth over $17 million to countries in the region, including to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most of these funds were provided through international aid agencies, for example the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Program and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Many Australians served as peacekeepers in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s.

2.     How would it be possible to improve the economic situation in BiH? Irrespective of the geographic distance, is there any interest among Australian business people to invest in the energy sector in BiH? 

Bilateral trade between Australia and Bosnia and Herzegovina is modest. According to our statistics, total two-way merchandise trade was just under A$3.9 million in 2012. Australian exports to Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2012 were worth approximately A$1.5 million while imports amounted to almost A$2.4 million. Principal exports include live animals, meat (excluding beef) and civil engineering equipment. The main imports from Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2012 were footwear, clothing and furniture. I am aware of Australian companies interested in opportunities in the mining sector and of business ventures here by Bosnian Australians.

3.     What is the key mechanism for BiH’s faster integration into the EU? In addition, what support can BiH expect from Australia on its way towards the EU? 

Australia has been categorical in expressing our full support to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We have spoken about this a couple of times since Australia started our two-year term at the United Nations Security Council last January.

We follow with interest political developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and its relationship with the EU. Australia would like to see more progress towards EU accession and, eventually, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s full integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Amending the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina to implement the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the Sejdić-Finci case remains a threshold issue on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s path towards European integration.

While I am aware of recent setbacks in achieving faster integration, the argument for giving it priority remains strong. One interesting and, in my view, positive step was the holding of the 2013 Census of Population, Households and Dwellings in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Its results will provide essential information for purposes of economic and social planning, development and improvements to the everyday life of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Holding the census also gives us hope that Bosnia and Herzegovina will overcome its legacy of conflict and division, and move decisively towards a more stable and prosperous future with its region.

4.     According to statistical data, almost 70 percent of people born in BiH and currently living in Australia immigrated to Australia from 1991-2000. What is the reputation of BiH citizens in Australia? How well are they integrated into Australian society?

Migrants and refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina have settled very well in Australia. People from Bosnia and Herzegovina contributed to the diversity of the Australian society. Let me mention a few of the most prominent Australians who have links to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Hon Ed Husic MP is of Bosnian origin. Mr Husic, a Sydney-born member of the Australian Labour Party was re-elected in the September 2013 elections for our national Parliament as the representative for the electorate of Chifley, New South Wales. A successful professional tennis player, Bernard Tomic, one of the rising young stars on the international tour, has his family roots in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Canberra-born actor Reshad Strik is also of Bosnian decent, and I understand his acting career has recently brought him to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tuzla-born model Andrej Pejic has become a name on catwalks across the globe as an androgynous model.

5.     It is interesting that education counts as the third most important ‘export’ because a large number of foreign students study at universities in Australia, which makes Australia a leader in the the field of higher education. Is there a scholarship program for students from BiH? How can students from BiH enroll in universities in Australia?   

Each individual university in Australia has a scholarship portfolio that can be offered to international students, including students from Bosnia and Herzegovina. There is no specific scholarship program for students from Bosnia and Herzegovina as such. Usually the scholarship is merit based and offered to the postgraduate students more frequently than to undergraduate students. The list of scholarships can be accessed at http://www.studyinaustralia.gov.au/global/australian-education/scholarships  and also at each individual university’s website.  The Study in Australia website is a useful source of information on not only courses of study, but of student life in Australia and the processes on how to apply to study in Australia.

6.     An agreement on cultural cooperation between Australia and Yugoslavia is still valid despite the fact that Yugoslavia no longer exists. What does this agreement imply about BiH? What are the possibilities for cultural cooperation and exchange between BiH and Australia?

Cultural cooperation and exchange could be explored further, especially drawing on people-to-people linkages between our two countries. Well established festivals and annual cultural events such as the Sarajevo Film Festival, the Bascarsija Nights, the Jazz Festival, the Sarajevo Poetry Days, or the Kratkofilm in Banja Luka have attracted Australian acts in the past. This has included the musicians Joseph and James Tawadros and the poet Dr Robyn Rowland. Let me mention that an Australian writer and Pulitzer Prize-winner, Geraldine Brooks, wrote a book about one of your national treasures, the famous Sarajevo Haggadah.

7.     An Australian journalist and writer Donald Horne through the title of his book wrote that Australia is ‘The Lucky Country’. When Australia is mentioned in BiH, the first thought that comes to our mind is – one country, one continent, kangaroos etc. When you hear BiH, what comes to your mind? How do you feel when you visit BiH?

This is my fifth visit since I took up posting in Vienna in September 2013. Well ahead of my term as Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, I had an interest in your country that began during the time I was posted at the Australian Permanent Mission to the UN in New York in the early 1990s. Those were exceptionally difficult times for Bosnia and Herzegovina and its peoples. I understand that it is a great challenge to deal with this legacy and be optimistic about the future. Visiting Srebrenica brought this home to me very directly. I find a lot to feel positive about when I visit Bosnia and Herzegovina. Your people are talented and genuinely friendly. I have found this in Sarajevo and while travelling, whether it be in Mostar or Banja Luka.Edus_HOM_1_Visit10April2013

I feel I have a lot to learn here. I am looking forward to my forthcoming visit when I am hoping to renew acquaintances and also meet many more friends at a reception to mark the Universal Children’s Day that I will be hosting together with UNICEF on 19 November in Sarajevo. Australia is a firm supporter of international efforts to encourage all countries to give increased attention to including people with disability in development, through their national development plans and through aid programs and partnerships. We have some links with schools in Sarajevo and Mostar who teach children with disabilities, and I have been impressed by their approach and commitment.

To highlight the challenges and opportunities that exist in Bosnia and Herzegovina in this important area, the Australian Embassy will host a reception with UNICEF in Sarajevo on 19 November, on the eve of Universal Children’s Day.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has some of the most remarkable scenery I have seen in Europe. Its natural resources, water in particular, with also agricultural potential, gives you a basis for economic growth.

You are also pretty good at football. As Bosnia and Herzegovina has qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brasil, I look forward to our two teams’ success – maybe we will be drawn in the same group!

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