STEVEN CIOBO: It's terrific to be here in London for the inaugural Commonwealth Trade Ministers’ Meeting. 35 Trade Ministers from around the Commonwealth coming together. An opportunity for us to discuss the future of trade, the future of liberalised trade and investment. It's been very encouraging this morning's opening session was an opportunity for there to be a strong commitment of full-throated defence of the benefits that flow from liberalised trade and investment. A recognition that we can't just talk the talk, we've got to walk the walk when it comes to the benefits that flow from open and liberalised trade. Australia continues to have a very strong focus on opening up export markets for Australian businesses around the world recognising that by doing that, we're creating economic growth in Australia, we're providing opportunities for Australians to get jobs. I also had the opportunity this morning to meet with Liam Fox, the UK Secretary of State for Trade. We had another very constructive discussion about the future of the free trade agreement that we hope to enter into once the UK formally exits the European Union. Both of us are very committed to a liberalisation agenda. Both of us are very focused on making sure that the joint working group that we've established continues their important work ahead of the official Brexit around scoping out what will be an ambitious FTA between Australia and the UK. Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Last time you were here European Union leaders made it very clear to yourself and the Foreign Minister that they expected the EU trade deal to come first. Is that your main priority? Is the UK one well on the back burner?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well as I’ve said we can walk and chew gum at the same time. The fact is that discussions with the EU are more advanced than they are with the UK. Discussions with the EU see us nearing the closing stages of the scoping study. We've still got to do some work around that scoping study, but we're near the closing stages. If we successfully conclude the scoping study, we'll commence formal negotiations with the EU around the middle to end of this year. So that's a different process, a different path to discussions that we're having with the UK. So I don't hold them in contrast it's not like it's one or the other, we can do both.
JOURNALIST: So it doesn't put the EU trade deal in jeopardy?
STEVEN CIOBO: Not at all. Not at all.
JOURNALIST: So why is the EU trade deal slipping? Because the talk last time was that the scoping study would be ready to go very early this year, we’re already in March and you're still not putting a date on it. What's holding it up?
STEVEN CIOBO: Part of the challenge with the EU is of course it is effectively a federation and so there are challenges in terms of some of the internal processes that the EU has. Plus of course we're continuing to have some discussions between Australia and the EU to make sure that we have a similar vision around what it is that we want to achieve.
JOURNALIST: So are there any countries in particular that are gumming up the works?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well our discussions with the EU are of course with Commissioner Malmstrom and her office and the discussions that we have with Brussels. The internal mechanisms within the EU are a political process that the EU itself governs, so my engagement isn't directly on a country-to-country basis, it's engagement with the European Commission in discussion with, in this particular case, Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom about what it is that we want out of the scoping study and where we think we can take it. If the Europeans say to me that they need a little bit more time, I'm happy to give them more time in order to be able to achieve a good common solid starting point for negotiations.
JOURNALIST: Is that frustrating?
STEVEN CIOBO: Not at all.
JOURNALIST: Are you happy being the Trade Minister and do you think you'd do a better job than Scott Morrison selling the Government's economic position?
STEVEN CIOBO: I absolutely love my job as Trade, Tourism, and Investment Minister. It's a fantastic role, it's a very important role in terms of this Government's agenda to continue opening up export markets and continuing making sure we're building on trade opportunities. The whole of the Government's frontbench is committed and working solidly to outlining why there is absolutely no alternative, in terms of Labor's proposal around the way we should govern our economy, how that actually would lead to more unemployment, and lower economic growth and more importantly even higher levels of debt. So we're all committed and pulling in the same direction around the Coalition's strong focus on the National Economic Plan to drive growth, and to drive jobs for Australians.
JOURNALIST: Does your Government need to do a lot more though? Because many of your backbenchers think that message is not only being lost, they think that key members of your team aren't doing a good enough job and they want a reshuffle at the start of next financial year.
STEVEN CIOBO: All members of the Coalition are absolutely focused on making sure that we do two things. The first is deliver upon the commitment that we took to the Australian people at the last election, an election that we were elected to government on, and with a view to execute those proposals that we took to the Australian people. We're in the process of doing that. The second thing that we're focused on is making sure that our strong economic plan, a plan to make sure Australia's economy keeps growing, that we keep driving jobs and keep opening export markets, that we undertake the hard decisions to make sure that we get that under control. We're all committed to doing that as well and we're doing it.
JOURNALIST: And do you think that George Brandis will make good High Commissioner?
STEVEN CIOBO: I'm not going to engage in speculation.
JOURNALIST: Is it speculation though, or is it that you expect that a lot of members of your Cabinet will have new jobs come July?
STEVEN CIOBO: I think that you're absolutely fishing, and I'm focused here on this Trade Ministers’ meeting on the discussions that I'm having with Liam Fox, and about making sure that we focus on getting better outcomes for Australian businesses.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of some of the criticism that there's been in the UK this week that this plan is essentially one to create an Empire 2.0, and that any sort of trade deals with Commonwealth countries are not going to be of significance to the UK compared to ones with perhaps countries like Brazil or leaving the European Union. What was your [inaudible]?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I've seen some of that media speculation. The simple fact is this; countries come here to share views, thoughts, ideals about where we see the international trade and investment environment going. There's no doubt that there are a diversity of views about the best way forward on trade. I represent Australia's interests. We are absolutely focused on being as ambitious as we can in relation to trade. We want to open up export markets, we want to open up investment. There's absolutely nothing here that’s about some kind of new empire or anything like that. This is about bringing countries together in various stages of development to talk about the importance of having a strong commitment to liberalising trade and investment, because that drives growth and it drives employment in every single country.
JOURNALIST: You're off to Chile next week to talk about the TPP, what are your hopes for those talks?
STEVEN CIOBO: The discussions in Chile next week will be important discussions. I've said previously that there are gains that were achieved under the TPP that we don't want to let slip through our fingers. Discussions I've had with a number of my counterparts all draw us to basically a similar view. This meeting in Chile will be the first opportunity that all of us will have coming together as TPP countries to talk about the future sans the United States. It'll also be an opportunity for us to get a clearer picture from the United States about what their proposed approach might be. So an important round of discussions. There were significant gains achieved under the TPP which we shouldn't just turn our backs on. That's part of the reason I'm so disappointed in Labor’s policy proposal. Labor just wants to walk away from the deal at the moment it gets a little bit hard. That's not a recipe for driving growth, that's not a recipe for securing outcomes, that's just a recipe to have lower levels of economic growth and to thwart opportunities for Aussies to get jobs.
JOURNALIST: So you're talking about a TPP sans the US, does that mean you've given up on them playing any role in it?
STEVEN CIOBO: In the TPP?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well the United States has made it very clear under the Trump Administration that they will not be part of the TPP.
JOURNALIST: In your talks here – it’s not exactly your portfolio – but how important post-Brexit will be better visa access for Australians from an Australian Government point of view?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well of course the Australian Government is very receptive to the views that many Aussies put forward and they'd like to have better visa access into the UK market. There's obviously politics here in the UK that the UK Government needs to deal with, we understand that and Australia obviously is very pragmatic about these matters. But we also take every opportunity to raise it and indeed raised it in bilaterals that we've had with UK ministers not only today but previously as well.
JOURNALIST: If you don't get better visa access is there a point in your view in going ahead with a broader free trade deal?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look trade deals are, by definition, in relation to trade and investment. We focus on goods, services, we focus on investment, and there will be aspects of it that deal with things like intra-company transfers and those sorts of visa issues. Importantly, we have in the UK an interlocker who’s happy to engage on all these matters. We have very good conversations, constructive conversations, we look at all these matters. We've got interests that we want to pursue, the UK Government has interests that they want to pursue, and I'm very confident because of the immense levels of goodwill between both countries, that we'll be able to get an excellent outcome.
JOURNALIST: Is an easier movement of labour around Commonwealth countries something that's being looked at, even if you don't want to call it Empire 2.0, is there a push among some Commonwealth counties for special visas, easier movement of labour among Commonwealth countries? That kind of –
STEVEN CIOBO: That's not been discussed so far, and it isn't on the agenda for the next two days.
JOURNALIST: You previously said that Australian negotiators have been offered to the UK to help in the coming months. Has that offer been taken up?
STEVEN CIOBO: I thought it'd be a really good idea if we had Australians on both sides of the table when it came to negotiations, I thought it'd make it very straight forward. But the UK at this stage hasn't taken up the offer. The UK has obviously an immense task ahead of them, there's a lot of infrastructure in terms of trade that they need to put into place. We understand that, we're happy to work with them on that. We've made the offer but ultimately they'll of course make decisions about resourcing as they see fit.
JOURNALIST: Do you expect to get a good deal because Australia's being so nice to the United Kingdom in the wake of Brexit?
STEVEN CIOBO: I'm going to get the best deal I can possibly secure for Australia. That's my focus, and as I said, we're having very constructive meaningful engagement with the UK. There's a lot of good will between Australia and the UK, and we're both very committed to getting a good trade and investment outcome because both of us recognise that good trade and investment outcomes promote economic growth and drive jobs.
JOURNALIST: Isn't it a frustrating position at the moment though for you when you can say, ‘We're here, we want all this stuff’ but the UK can kind of go, ‘Oh no, no we can't do anything until two years’ time’. That must be frustrating to not have specifics from them.
STEVEN CIOBO: Not at all. If you look at where Australia's placed vis-a-vis the UK we already have in place a joint working group, that was established and has had its first meeting already. We are taking concrete strides forward in terms of these discussions between Australia and the UK. So they are only preliminary discussions, but there's a lot of preliminary work that happens in order to put an FTA in place. We need to scope out the level of ambition, we need to have relevant conversations about what might happen in the goods and services and investment aspects of the free trade agreement. That precedes actual negotiations that we have so we're making a lot of progress. Importantly there's goodwill on both sides and a common commitment, which is probably the single most important aspect.
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