SABRA LANE: The Trade Minister Steven Ciobo takes off today for a quick trip around the globe to Indonesia, the UK and Chile, hoping to make significant progress on three trade deals. The first stop is Jakarta. Australia and Indonesia are hoping to finally sign off on a trade and investment agreement by the end of this year. Indonesian officials want to export more palm oil and timber products and better access for young students to study here. I was joined earlier by Mr Ciobo from his home on the Gold Coast. Steven Ciobo, thank you for joining AM this morning.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good morning, good to be with you.
SABRA LANE: Negotiations with Indonesia on this agreement started more than a decade ago. You'd like it done by the end of this year. How realistic is that?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well both sides are working diligently toward that outcome. I'm pleased to say that since Minister Lukita became Indonesia's Trade Minister, he and I have either met or spoken on the phone some 14 times since July last year, which I think is emblematic of the high level of commitment from both sides to completing this negotiation.
SABRA LANE: Indonesia officials say they'd like to see more palm oil and timber products coming to Australia, suggesting that there seem to be some unofficial barriers from stopping these things from coming here. Are you sympathetic to that desire?
STEVEN CIOBO: I am, but there's of course a clear focus on securing a win-win outcome with any trade negotiation. What I want is a highly ambitious agreement between Australia and Indonesia, one that secures further liberalisation on goods and services and investment, and underscoring that will of course be a good win-win outcome for both sides.
SABRA LANE: And what about better access for young Indonesian university students who want to come here to study?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, anything that we do, we do in the context of existing visa requirements. From my perspective, what we want to make sure that we do is get overall a good, comprehensive deal, one that's actually going to provide for, among other things, movement of natural persons, but in a way that's consistent with our existing policy, which means of course that we don't want to preclude opportunities for Australians to have effectively the first go at jobs here in Australia.
SABRA LANE: Some of those visa standards though, I understand, for some people, they need to have $5,000 in the bank and also provide chest x-rays.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that's part and parcel of the requirements that we have in terms of securing visas for people from outside of Australia. We would never, of course, compromise Australia's requirements in terms of health, things like tuberculosis and whatnot. But look, we'll look at it in the context of the overall deal. Likewise, Australia would want to have much better access into Indonesia for our labour force. I mean, a clear example of the win-win outcome that I'm talking about is a situation where as an Australian, for example, teacher who might teach vocational education. Well, if we can get more campuses, if we can get a greater presence of vocational education, tertiary institutions and others in Indonesia, that's a good export service for Australia. But it's also good for Indonesia because it builds their capacity.
SABRA LANE: You're also off to Britain to hold further talks on securing a trade deal once it breaks from the EU. Australian exports to the United Kingdom have gone from $12 billion in 2010 to around $7 billion now. What's happened?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, unfortunately we have lost ground in the EU, and I want to make sure that we reverse that. A key part of my focus is making sure that we do achieve a further liberalised outcome. In particular, of course, we've got to focus on quotas. I mean, it is a ridiculous situation that Australia imports more from the European Union than we actually export to the European [Union] with their population of some 400-plus million people. So there is opportunity there. That's why we're close to concluding the scoping study with the European Union. And it's also the reason why we'll have a good hard look at putting in place an FTA with the UK once they have formally exited the EU.
SABRA LANE: You're also heading to Chile to continue TPP talks without the United States. Given where those negotiations are at, are there new countries that you'd like to include in that deal now without jeopardising the progress that's been made so far?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well the TPP has always had open architecture. It's provided for other countries to join it if they'd like to. Right here and now, of course, the key focus of the TPP is to look at whether or not the deal can be salvaged. I've spoken to a large number of my counterparts from TPP countries. There is a desire to not let those gains slip through our fingers, but what that will ultimately look like is something that we'll be discussing in Chile. What I will absolutely not do though is just pull down the louvres and say ‘that’s it, game over', which is what the Labor Party is actually recommending - because we've seen that Australian exports are underpinning a lot of Australia's economic growth right now. And to walk away from trade agreements, to walk away from trade deals is to walk away from stronger economic growth and jobs for Australians.
SABRA LANE: Given the suspicion though that some Australians have about the benefits of free trade deals and voters favouring parties like the Nick Xenophon Team, could the Coalition be doing a better job of explaining the merits of these agreements?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I think Australians see, if they're watching Parliament, if they're looking at the messages that I and others are consistently focusing in on, it is a fact that trade growth is crucial for Australia's economic growth. I know that sometimes there is a siren call from some who say let's throw back up the protectionist walls, let's put in place tariffs again, suggesting that in some way that's going to lead to a beneficial economic outcome, but it doesn’t. All it does is lead to less prosperity in the future and fewer jobs for Australians.
SABRA LANE: One of those groups has been the One Nation group that's been talking about, you know, concentrating more on manufacturing back here, and in your home state many lower house seats saw a high One Nation vote last election. Why do you think so many Queenslanders find Pauline Hanson's party so attractive?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, that's difficult for me to say why they would. But, I mean, take for example on the trade front, just last weekend we secured much more beneficial access for Australian sugar cane farmers into Indonesia. Now that's a consequence of an early outcome from a trade deal that we're looking at doing in Indonesia. It's going to see good opportunities for sugar cane exports to that country. Now, if we adopted a closed mentality, if we adopted a stance that said we're not going to sell to foreign markets, then we would be losing out on those opportunities. So, all I could really highlight for Queenslanders is that is a concrete way where the Coalition's commitment to opening markets for export is actually delivering on-the-ground benefits, not only in Queensland but, indeed, across Australia.
SABRA LANE: Mr Ciobo, thanks for talking to AM this morning.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak with you.
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