BEN FORDHAM: Does this mean the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is dead, or can it go on without the United States? And with the US planning to withdraw, what does it mean for us, and what does it mean for the beef and wheat and dairy industries that were said to be major beneficiaries of the deal? From Parliament House, Canberra, Steve Ciobo, the Trade Minister. Minister, good afternoon.

STEVEN CIOBO: G’day, Ben. How are you doing?

BEN FORDHAM: I'm okay. The Japanese Prime Minister said on Monday that the trade deal would be meaningless without the US. Is that true?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well certainly the United States is a key anchor for all of the TPP countries. We are very keen though, recognising that many benefits would flow from this deal, to push ahead. We need to give the US time. I know President-elect Trump has made some comments today with respect to the TPP. But I think with the passage of time, we're just going to see what the ultimate decision of the US Congress is.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay, now we've got a separate trade deal with the United States. Can you just explain how this works. We’ve got a one-on-one trade deal with America separate to the TPP.

STEVEN CIOBO: That's right. There's different types of trade deals. There's what's called multilateral deals, plurilateral deals, and bilateral deals, Ben. But basically, long story short, multilateral deals are ones that involve all of the WTO countries. Then you have plurilateral, which are things similar to the TPP where you've got a regional grouping of 12 countries that have formed an agreement. Then you've got bi-lateral deals, which basically is an agreement between two countries. Now, to exactly your point, Australia and the United States have a bi-lateral deal in place called the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement.

BEN FORDHAM: So if the United States pulls out, one of the suggestions around today is well this might be an opportunity for China to step in. Is that a possibility? China could step in where the United States has stepped out?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the way that the TPP agreement has been struck, there is opportunity for other countries to join, because obviously, the more countries that join these trade deals, the lower the barriers to trade, which means that there's less red tape, less compliance. The reason that's important, Ben, is because it enables Aussie exporters to be able to get access to more markets around the world, and to do so without being hindered by a whole lot of red tape. These trade deals aren't just about doing trade deals for the sake of it. Ultimately, they're about doing trade deals that are good for our country. And if you look at what we've been able to put in place, with China, with South Korea, and with Japan, you can see Aussie exporters have done really well. We're generating huge exports. In fact now, we export the bulk of our wine - the single biggest export market for Australian wine is China. And that's great for driving local jobs, and of course our local economy.

BEN FORDHAM: If it's beneficial to those who are part of the partnership, then why is America pulling out?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, ultimately that's a decision for the United States –

BEN FORDHAM: But there's alternative views, aren't there, when it comes to this stuff. Even with Australia. I know that there was a World Bank study that said that the TPP would boost Australia's economy by .7 per cent by the year 2030, and there are others who are against it who've argued that the agreement looks to benefit foreign businesses at the expense of Australian consumers. So Donald Trump seems to have that same view that, ‘No, this is going to be good for everyone else, but not for us’.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Ben, the fact is that if you look at the last 40 or 50 years, the fact is that liberalised trade has driven improved living standards. Now, I don't dispute for one second, and in fact I respect the fact that different people have different views about a combination of things. One are trade deals, others are the forces of globalisation, others are the fact that we have increasing automation in a range of different areas. But the fundamental fact is this: Liberalised trade has driven Australia's economy and created job opportunities for Australians. We have enjoyed 25 years of continuous economic growth. Now that's not exclusively because of trade deals, but they have played a very big role. And Ben, if you just look at what we have been able to do since the Coalition came to government and we put I place these three trade deals with the big north Asian economies of China, South Korea and Japan, we are seeing now Aussie exporters being able to provide huge boosts of export into those countries. Just a couple of days ago, we had the Korea Australia Free Trade Agreement, new figures released which showed a billion dollars’ worth of additional exports into Korea, I mean that's great news.

BEN FORDHAM: So therefore, do people need to be worried? Those exporters, we're talking about a deal here that covered 40 per cent of the world's economy. Do they need to be worried that this thing is on ice?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well I certainly wouldn't describe it like that, I mean we want to pursue these deals because it's a good deal for Australia. I mean we're opening up more markets to Australian exports and that's the big benefit that flows from it. I mean I hope in time that the US Congress will come onboard and the US President will come onboard and recognise that the TPP is actually an important step forward, a comprehensive deal that embraces the digital economy and all of these types of new measures, and that's important because –

BEN FORDHAM: So you think Donald Trump might change his mind?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well I'm going to leave the door open for it Ben.

BEN FORDHAM: He doesn't seem like the kind of bloke who'll be moved on this but we'll see. Jason Clare, Labor's trade spokesperson says that you guys should be using this as an opportunity to reinstate rules that mean companies have to look for an Australian first before employing someone from overseas, rules that you signed away for six countries under the TPP. What do you say to Jason Clare?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well that's completely wrong. I mean the fact is that we already do require businesses to look at employing an Australian first, and in fact you can only bring in a foreign worker where there is not an Australian who can fill the role. That's what exists under all of our trade agreements, and it was the same under Labor incidentally Ben, but I'll tell you the other big thing, in particular, we hear about these 457 visas. The 457 visas had an incredible growth rate when Labor was last in power, in fact it was Bill Shorten, when he was the minister in the Gillard-Rudd-Gillard governments, I should say Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments, who actually presided over the biggest increase in 457 workers coming into the country, and that's why I just find this commentary now when he tries to walk both sides of the street, did one thing in government, now he's in opposition he's running around saying, ‘oh, we're all about Australians first’, I mean they're stating a principle that's already enshrined, which is that Aussies have first preference, and there's got to be a shortfall of Aussie workers before he can bring in foreign workers.

BEN FORDHAM: Just very briefly and lastly and back to the TPP, what happens now? Do you now hit the phones and try and work out with some of your other counterparts in these other nations to say, ‘righto, what are we going to do about this other spot, where are we going to offer it, who's going to be invited in?’ How do you sort that out?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well we had big conversations about this just recently in Lima, as part of the APEC discussions over in Peru. We all got together, those of us that were there and had conversations about the importance of continuing to drive economic growth about the focus that we must have on creating local employment opportunities local job opportunities, and why trade is a crucial part of that. Also met with a subset of a number of countries that were part of the TPP to say, ‘well what do we do if the United States doesn't ratify’, which means they don't put it into force domestically. So we are looking at all these options, as I said it's a good deal for Australia, we want to take it forward, it's going to drive our economy, it's going to help to drive Australian jobs, and I'm hopeful that through ongoing discussion and engagement we'll get a good outcome.

BEN FORDHAM: It wouldn't hurt Aussie businesses if China was to come into place of the United States.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well you know Ben, we've already seen Australian businesses doing really well thanks to the free trade agreement we've got with China.

BEN FORDHAM: So you're not picking up the phone to China straight away and saying, ‘hey listen, we need a favour here, you guys need to step in’.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well they can step in. I mean there is actually opportunity for China, for Indonesia, for other countries to look at joining the TPP, and I think that's an important initiative which can actually help to make sure that we get an even better deal, because you see, every time we get one set of common rules that applies to more and more and more countries, the reason it helps is because there's less red tape, there's fewer hurdles that have to be cleared by those exporting businesses, and you know, Australia's a trading nation. We export huge volumes and that's why these deals are good for our country and good for Aussie workers.

BEN FORDHAM: Alright, well watch this space. Good to talk to you, thanks for your time.

STEVEN CIOBO: Thanks mate.

[ends]

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