Australia recently signed a deal with the United Arab Emirates to provide uranium for the Persian Gulf country’s planned nuclear power plants. In an email interview, Fethi Mansouri, the director of the Center for Citizenship and Globalization at Deakin University, Australia, and the author of “Australia and the Middle East: a Frontline Relationship,” discussed Australia-Middle East relations.
WPR: What is the recent history of Australia's diplomatic and trade relations with the Middle East?
Fethi Mansouri: Australia’s interest in and relationship with the Middle East was initially shaped by its early involvement in the imperial defense system led by Britain, which included Australian defense forces during both world wars. This military engagement is still an important feature of the current engagement, with Australia playing a significant role in the U.S.-led wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. However, in recent years Australia’s relationship with the Middle East has begun to broaden to include significant trade and education-services components that are aimed in particular toward the Persian Gulf region. While this recent expansion still prominently features wheat, meat and other food products, it is now also starting to include new resource products, such as uranium, zinc and liquefied propane. As of 2010, the value of Australia’s trade with the Middle East was almost $11 billion, with the Middle East accounting for almost 2.5 per cent of Australia’s total trade for the year and, importantly, with Australia maintaining a surplus of $2.1 billion vis-à-vis the region.