BETTY LIU: Australia's Trade Minister says China's Belt and Road initiative will provide a win-win opportunity after attending the summit in Beijing over the last couple of days. Steven Ciobo is heading to Hanoi for the APEC Trade Ministers’ meeting. He's currently in Hong Kong today and joins us now from there. Minister, great to have you. Of course, win-win is the preferred terminology from Beijing. You've said that you want to see the details of this $78 billion infrastructure push. What are you hoping or expecting that Australia might be able to get out of it?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Australia's got a great track record with the financing, the design, and the construction of infrastructure. I think that there's real opportunity for us to be able to work in a complementary way with this initiative. Australia, of course, has a great relationship with China, especially when it comes to trade. We've got a lot of knowledge and experience that we can share, so I'm very confident that going forward, Australia will be able to play its role as part of the broader initiative being executed across the various countries and throughout Asia and into Europe.
BETTY LIU: You're in Hong Kong obviously at the moment. You're there to launch FTA negotiations with Hong Kong, but tariffs are already at zero. What are you hoping to achieve out of this deal?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, there's a lot more to trade than simply goods trade, of course, and whilst tariffs are at zero, there's a number of initiatives that we can undertake. What I'm particularly focused on, especially in a highly developed economy like Australia, is making sure that we can maximise our export potential. Now, basically around 75 per cent of Australia's economy is service-based. We've got tremendous opportunity to boost our services exports. Only about 22 per cent of Australia's exports right now are services exports, and given that Hong Kong is our eighth largest export market, there's a real opportunity for Australia and Hong Kong to be able to do some great work around services, a very modern and comprehensive free trade agreement, one that also touches upon areas like the digital economy. So that's what I'm focused on.
BETTY LIU: Mr Trade Minister, you're absolutely right, and you point out - you make a great point here about how service export seems to have lagged behind some of those harder exports like how we traditionally think of Australia, with commodities for instance. So how exactly is Hong Kong going to help you in this respect? What exactly in the services side do you think that Australia can make a name for itself in the trading world?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, I mean, Hong Kong, like Australia, of course, is very focused on services as well. There's not a heavy or large manufacturing base in Hong Kong itself. And so there's, of course, complementarities there for both Hong Kong and Australia. In terms of areas, Australia has a great reputation. We've got a very creative people. Australians are, of course, very well-educated. We've got tremendous resources that we can draw upon in terms of that creativity, in terms of the ability to develop design. Take, for example, the work that Ford's doing. They've withdrawn of course car manufacturing in Australia, but they've retained a large proportion of their design team based in Australia. So it's picking up on those sorts of skills that Australians have that I'm very confident we'll be able to use in the future to help boost a big push by exporters, whether it's architectural services, legal services, health services. There's so many different areas.
BETTY LIU: Mr Trade Minister, we've had you on several times, and every single time we have you on, we talk TPP. I know that you're very dedicated to getting TPP done. One of its biggest proponents – and so I'm not going to ask you ‘do you think it's going to get done or not?’ because I know what your answer is going to be. I would say, what do you hope to get achieved by the end of this year at the very least? That to you, is going to be a win-win by the end of this year?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, Australia, together with Canada, New Zealand, and other countries have been having really fruitful discussions about capturing the gains that are contained within the TPP. I don't know ultimately what's going to happen but what I am going to do is make sure we put in a concerted effort to try to get TPP over the line as a TPP11 if need be. Important discussions will take place this coming weekend in Hanoi. It'll be an opportunity around APEC for us to come together as trade ministers to look at what we can do. We've had officials that met recently in Canada so we're going to keep having these conversations looking at whether or not we can put in place a TPP11. Maybe not by the end of the year but certainly in the first half of next year. But there's a lot of process that we've got to work through and of course with the US withdrawing, it's changed the metric for countries. I understand that countries will need to recalibrate their metrics around the TPP and that's just a process that's going to get worked through and it just takes a little bit of time.
HAIDI LUN: Does it also change the focus or the priority back onto bilat deals. I know Australia's in conversations with India, Indonesia. Are you optimistic that those deals could be done this year?
STEVEN CIOBO: I've adopted a pretty pragmatic approach when it comes to pursuing Australia's national interest on trade and investment. And by that what I mean is that I will pursue bilateral deals, I'll pursue plurilateral deals, multilateral deals, regional blocks. We will use the full arsenal of opportunities available to Australia to maximise Australia's national interest. I always make the point in these trade deals it's not about a win-loss scenario. Good trade deals provide win-win outcomes. And so that's been my approach when it comes to engaging with other countries. Now my number one priority is Indonesia. That's what I've been very focused on but we're continuing to pursue a number of new initiatives including the announcement today of the commencement of FTA negotiations with Hong Kong. So it really, I think, provides a good or lays down a good benchmark about where Australia's going in terms of our engagement with the world.
HAIDI LUN: Minister, you along with the Prime Minister have been champions for free trade in what's been a pretty difficult few months in terms of global headwinds and not knowing what we can expect. Have the recent developments, the US, China, ten area trade deal, does that encourage you that perhaps these concerns, this threat of a global trade war, have eased somewhat?
STEVEN CIOBO: I think there's a lot of rampant speculation at the very outset of the new US Administration. I think that that's dampening down and that's a good outcome. We don't want there to be high levels of volatility. We know that volatility will affect, ultimately, growth. My approach on these are fairly fundamental. That is that trade drives economic growth and economic growth, in turn, drives job opportunities. Now one of the most fundamental initiatives that any government can undertake is to create the right business conditions to enable the labour force and the people to be able to get jobs. That's what drives me in terms of Australia's engagement with the world. That's what I'm focused on. So we want to drive trade because it's good for economic growth.
BETTY LIU: Trade Minister Ciobo, one last question before we go. Do you feel like the US and Australia relations are back on track after President Trump and Malcolm Turnbull's meeting here in the US?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well I don't think they were over off track, to be honest. Australia and the US have, for decades now, had a really strong relationship and it's not just economic relationship. Of course the economic and investment relationship is very strong. The US is the biggest investor into Australia and we've got a substantial stock of investments in the United States, as well. But it's also those people to people links, the fact that we share values, we share an approach in so many different areas. So I'm really pleased that the relationship continues to be strong.
BETTY LIU: Alright. Steven Ciobo. Thank you so much for joining us. Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment there in Hong Kong starting negotiations on a free trade agreement with Hong Kong.
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