Ross Greenwood: Andrew Robb, our Trade Minister is on the line from Manila; many thanks for your time Andrew.

Andrew Robb: My pleasure Ross.

Ross Greenwood: Just explain exactly what are you achieving in Manila; is it pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership further, or is it things such as trying to see if we can get a trade deal with the European Union; is that also some sort of priority?  I wouldn’t imagine there in Manila it would be a key priority for you right now?

Andrew Robb: The first one is the one that’s the priority; APEC is 21 major nations from across our region in the Pacific, and is more a forum for identifying the drivers of growth and jobs in the years ahead, which we should all be aiming at.  One of the things also is to further liberalise trade in goods and services, and to free up investment between all of our countries. 

As you said, we’ve just had the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement; that involves 12 of the countries in the region – 40 per cent of the world’s GDP, a third of the world’s trade – and we’ve all agreed to one free trade area; we’ve lowered protections across all these countries, we have one set of rules for trading across goods and services. 

Now the big topic of discussion, and the one that I’ve tried to kick along today, is if we can do a similar deal on the other side of Asia – which is underway at the moment – if we can finish that quickly and then put the two together, that would mean you’d have 21, 22, 23 nations as part of a Asia-Pacific free trade area.  Now that means one set of rules across the whole Asia-Pacific; it would mean nearly 60 per cent or more of world trade would be covered with one agreement, so with the failure of getting something in a multilateral sense in Geneva, this is the next best step; to get one across our region and see if we can encourage growth and jobs and investment.

Ross Greenwood: You and I have often talked about this, and that is that a lot of people think about these free trade deals, and they think about cattle and rice and commodities, in many cases soft commodities; agricultural commodities.  But the real driver of this going forward is for business people, and even workers, to be quite innovative in the way in which they think about services; it’s about healthcare, it’s about aged care, it’s about education.  All these types of things that Australia really is quite blessed in, but doesn’t perhaps even recognise it has export potential?

Andrew Robb: You’re right on the money.  For instance the China deal that we’ve just struck; all the attention is on the benefits for agriculture, which are very important and are great, but the biggest part of the deal is that they’ve opened the doors to us – they haven’t to anyone else yet – but they’ve opened the doors to Australia for all of our services.

As you say, they’ll allow us – once the agreement enters into force at the end of December – they will allow our hospital operators to go in and open up as many hospitals as they like, and own them 100 per cent.  It’s the same with aged care facilities, hotels and restaurants, and it’s because they need services.  They need us and our services to help them train so many of their people.  The services market is such a huge market; even in Australia, 75 per cent of our GDP is from services, and nine out of ten jobs are from services.

Ross Greenwood: Is a free trade agreement negotiation with Europe on the cards?

Andrew Robb: We have started that; the Prime Minister, during his current visit when he was in Germany and now in Turkey at the G20, has on the sidelines formalised the fact we’re now going to undertake a free trade agreement with Europe.  If you put all the European countries together, they’re our second biggest trading bloc; it is importantly a long-standing trade and investment partner.  But we can’t have all our eggs in the one basket, that’s the bottom line.

Ross Greenwood: The Paris attacks; do they have any sort of ramifications in trade around the world?

Andrew Robb: No, I don’t think it’s affecting trade.  In fact, the general response through all the APEC countries – and we have all the foreign affairs ministers here, Julie Bishop is here with me and all the trade ministers, and as you said, all the leaders will be here in a couple of days’ time – the general response is that we’re not going to let this interfere with us one little bit.  We’re just going to get on with life.  Of course we’ve got to deal with the madmen out of the Middle East in the form of ISIS, but it’s certainly an act of defiance.

Ross Greenwood: No doubt, Andrew Robb our Trade Minister.


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