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Bush Vows That Creating U.S. Jobs Is Top Priority of Trip to Asia

TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Bush headed to Australia on Monday, vowing anew that his “highest priority” on his 26,000-mile Asian tour will be to create “good jobs for American workers.”

“We will do all we can to make progress to drive down barriers abroad that inhibit the creation of jobs and opportunity at home,” he said as he departed Washington to begin the politically sensitive trip.

With the main focus of the journey expected to be on Japan, Bush hailed as “a very important step” the decision by the Bank of Japan to reduce its discount lending rate to 4.5%.

“I think they realize that growth is a good way for the world economy to go up,” Bush told reporters aboard Air Force One. White House officials said they hope the Japanese move would help rekindle growth in the American economy as well.

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But Bush warned in advance of the trip that his journey to Australia, Singapore, Korea and Japan will not resolve all outstanding trading issues. And as his plane interrupted its trans-Pacific journey here for refueling, it seemed certain that Bush’s first stop, in Australia, would mark an inauspicious start on his job-creation mission.

Australia remains mired in a deep recession, with unemployment at 10.5%, the highest level since the 1930s; the size of the economy has shrunk steadily for more than a year.

While the main thrust of Bush’s trip is to force openings in foreign markets, Australia already imports far more American-made goods than it exports to the United States; its deficit this year is estimated at more than $4 billion.

Indeed, the main motivation for Bush’s trip to Australia--a longstanding invitation by former Prime Minister Bob Hawke--has itself become a casualty of recession. Hawke was ousted from office last month by his own political party.

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In talks beginning Wednesday with Prime Minister Paul Keating, Bush is expected to encourage Australia to reduce the high tariffs that serve as a barrier to some U.S. imports.

But a briefing paper for American business executives accompanying Bush emphasizes cooperation with Australia, and any clashes with Asian trading partners are not likely to take place until the President arrives in South Korea this weekend.

Bush and his wife, Barbara, are expected to arrive in Australia tonight in time for a New Year’s Eve fireworks display in Sydney Harbor.

But on Air Force One, the First Lady said it is unlikely that the two will stay awake to greet the New Year. Asked her plans for the evening, she said: “Same thing I do every New Year’s Eve with George Bush--go to bed early.”

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