April 21, 2017 / 7:51 AM / 8 months ago

Pence to talk trade, security and koalas during Australian visit

SYDNEY, April 21 (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is expected to discuss trade and regional security when he meets Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday, Australian officials said.

Pence arrives in Australia late on Friday for the last stop on his 10-day tour of U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific region that has included a series of roundtables with leading business executives in South Korea, Japan, and Indonesia.

His trip to the region is the first by a senior official in President Donald Trump’s administration as the United States looks to strengthen economic ties and security cooperation amid disputes in the South China Sea and tension on the Korean peninsula.

“The vice president has met or spoken with several ministers and they spoke of the strong commitment to continuing the relationship with Australia, so the prime minister will enjoy the chance to talk about opportunities for building on that partnership,” said one official in Turnbull’s office, who asked not to be identified.

Australia’s relationship with the new administration in Washington got off to a rocky start when Trump lambasted Turnbull over a refugee resettlement arrangement that Trump labelled a “dumb” deal.

Details of an acrimonious phone call between the pair soon after Trump took office made headlines around the world.

That deal, agreed with former President Barack Obama, is likely to be discussed on Saturday.

Under the deal, the United States agreed to resettle up to 1,250 asylum seekers held in offshore processing camps on South Pacific islands in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

In return, Australia would resettle refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The deal has taken on added importance for Australia, which is under political and legal pressure to shut the camps, particularly one on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island where violence between residents and inmates has flared.

Pence will also meet Australian business executives in Sydney on Saturday, following similar meetings in Seoul, Tokyo, and Jakarta that have been thick with executives from Fortune 100 companies.

His message at each of those stops was to reassure political and business leaders that Trump’s “America First” policy meant that the United States was open to foreign investment, and that his administration wanted to work with business leaders to knock down barriers for U.S. products.

Pence also discussed efforts in Washington to work with Congress on tax and regulatory reform.

He has also confirmed that Trump will attend this year’s gathering of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, scheduled for the Philippines in November.

While in Australia, Pence and his family will also meet some local wildlife at Sydney’s zoo, take a harbour cruise and tour the world-famous Sydney Opera House. (Reporting By Jane Wardell and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Paul Tait)

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