Visiting Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Friday that his country will decide on the basis of national interests whether to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, even if Japan goes ahead without the United States.

“Whatever decision we take will not be based on following one country or another . . . (but) based on what we regard as being in the best interests of Australia,” Howard told a news conference.

The 62-year-old prime minister, however, said he and his Japanese counterpart, Junichiro Koizumi, “both agreed that a comprehensive agreement would be difficult to be seen as feasible unless it included the United States and developing countries.”

Howard admitted that while the positions of Japan and Australia are “very close,” they are not identical.

The U.S. has rejected the protocol, which requires industrial countries to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases under a set of binding targets, because it would hurt the U.S. economy and it exempts developing countries from duties.

Boost in economic ties

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his Australian counterpart, John Howard, agreed Friday to enhance the two nations’ economic ties by stepping up bilateral trade and investment.

During a 45-minute meeting at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, the leaders confirmed that the two nations will take measures to expand the scope of bilateral trade and investment, in line with the policy outlined at the Japan-Australia Conference held in April in Sydney.

Howard emphasized that the Japan-Australia relationship is becoming increasingly important not only in terms of economic ties, but also “politically, socially and culturally,” according to a Japanese official.

Howard was in Tokyo for a two-day visit to meet Japanese political and business leaders. It was his fourth trip to Japan as Australian prime minister but the first time he has met with Koizumi.

Japan is Australia’s largest trading partner and Japanese companies are major investors in Australia, employing 50,000 Australians. , according to the Australian Embassy in Tokyo.

At Friday’s talks, Koizumi and Howard also took up the issue of global warming, praising each other’s efforts during a recent U.N. climate change conference in Bonn.

While Howard noted that close cooperation between Japan and Australia yielded better-than-expected results at the Bonn meeting, Koizumi reiterated Tokyo’s position of trying to bring the United States back into the Kyoto Protocol process.

“Japan has not changed its stance that it’s desirable to ratify the pact after the U.S. returns to the process,” Koizumi was quoted as as telling Howard. “We will continue our efforts until the very last moment to get the U.S. and developing nations involved.”

The leaders also expressed their appreciation for each other’s efforts to achieve regional security, including Australia’s peacekeeping operations and Japan’s election-monitoring efforts in East Timor. Canberra has called on Japan to play a more active role in the war-devastated region.

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