Michael Brissenden: Andrew Robb, this is the third FTA (free trade agreement) you've signed as Trade Minister. What does this mean for our exports? How significant is it?
Andrew Robb: By itself it's hugely significant but put the three together and you really have got a set of trade agreements with over 50 per cent of our export markets.
Given what's going on in the region, the extraordinary explosion of people going into the middle class, this is a very landmark set of agreements, and it will see literally billions of dollars, thousands, many hundreds of thousands of jobs, and will underpin a lot of our prosperity in the years ahead.
Michael Brissenden: Now obviously everybody looks to China and to Chinese growth continuing. Presumably the FTA assumes that that growth will continue at a pretty sustainable rate.
Andrew Robb: Yes, but it's quite conservative on that front. Now you hear a lot of people concerned about growth rates of 7 or 6.5, but China is now - even in the last six or eight years - it's now so much bigger as an economy. It's been growing at 10 per cent.
You put 6.5 per cent across the size of the economy now, it's a much bigger number than 10 per cent across the growth or the size of China even in 2008, 2009.
Michael Brissenden: And what does it mean for the average household, do you think?
Andrew Robb: Well we're already seeing – when the Japanese Free Trade Agreement took effect in early January – the big car manufacturers were out there advertising cars up to $7,000 cheaper. We're seeing electronics a lot cheaper already. We're seeing bigger prices and access for a lot of our products, both agriculture and manufacturing. All of these things are feeding money into pockets, sustaining jobs in Australia.
Michael Brissenden: How many jobs?
Andrew Robb: Some work that was done by the Centre for International Economics looking at the benefits of all three Free Trade Agreements made an assessment that there'll be 9,000 jobs per year.
This doesn't take account of either, the new investment that will come into the country. And we saw with the US Free Trade Agreement nearly10 years ago that the two-way investment flow jumped well over a trillion dollars after 10 years.
Michael Brissenden: But of course in any deal there have to be some losers, I assume. And not everybody's happy with this. Although it's a big win for some sectors like dairy there are some other agricultural sectors like sugar and wheat that I understand were completely left out of this.
Andrew Robb: Well, that's true but of course we do already sell about twice as much sugar to China than we do to the United States, and we sell very significant quantities of wheat. Now of course there is no further benefit, but we have agreed as part of the deal that within three years we will look at these very difficult areas for China, to see whether we can start to see some removal of further protection.
This is a document which is not just what we sign today; it's a living document that we'll kind of review progressively, and again that will reflect what's going on in the region and the growth and the opportunities.
Michael Brissenden: Okay, the FTA will also promote further Australian investment in China and Chinese investment in Australia, which as you know is a pretty sensitive issue at the moment because of rising community concern about Chinese acquisition of farms and real estate. Do you agree with Barnaby Joyce who'd like to see a ban on all foreign governments and foreign owned state companies from buying Australian farmland?
Andrew Robb: I think what Barnaby was saying, essentially, was that there has been – and there should be – rules which are different for investments from private companies, wherever that is, including China, or from government-owned companies. Now that has always been the case and I think always should be. In fact from the very first dollar of any investment by a government-owned enterprise of activities in Australia, it must go before the Foreign Investment Review Board and…
Michael Brissenden: Sure, but isn't that the problem with doing business with China? Because often that line is pretty hard to find, isn't it?
Andrew Robb: No; well every SOE, or State Owned Enterprise, who seeks to buy into property or any major investment in Australia, it comes under those provisions. Now that system has worked very satisfactorily. It has I think given a lot of comfort to many Australians about these deals being done in the national interest.
Michael Brissenden: Okay, just quickly on the broader trade agreements, last time we spoke you were hopeful that an agreement would be reached on the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but the US government has knocked the fast track mechanism out. Will that derail the hopes for the TPP for the moment?
Andrew Robb: It's getting quite problematic in the United States. We are literally one week of negotiation away from completing this extraordinary deal across 12 countries and 40 per cent of the world's GDP. But the US Congress - as it has sometimes before - caused a problem. You can see the political heat's rising by the day over there because of the presidential election next year. So I don't think anyone can call it. But if it's not dealt with in the next two or three weeks I think we've got a real problem with the future of the TPP.
Michael Brissenden: So you don't sound very confident, then.
Andrew Robb: I think a lot of people felt very comforted by the fact it got through the Senate, which was seen to be the difficult passage, but now it's before the House; it's facing a number of barriers and I don't think anyone really knows where it's going to finish up.
Michael Brissenden: Andrew Robb, thank you very much for joining us.
Andrew Robb: Thanks Michael.
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