Journalist: In the meantime, the ministers here at APEC are busy working behind closed doors on that TPP deal. Let me bring in Steve Ciobo who is the Australian Trade Minister for more on that. Steve, thank you for taking the time to speak to CNBC. On TPP 11 now, is it a done deal, ready to be signed, sealed, and delivered by the end of APEC?
Steven Ciobo: Well I wouldn't say it's a done deal yet, but we are inching closer. Obviously, some important discussions still taking place today. I'm really hopeful. Australia is very hopeful that we can get this deal across the line. There's a lot of benefits that flow from a TPP 11 deal, notwithstanding the US decision to withdraw. The remaining 11 of us have all been working really assiduously to make this happen, so I'm hopeful.
Journalist: What are the outstanding sticking points that still need to be worked out?
Steven Ciobo: There's always, of course, some national interest concerns that countries put forward. We've been really making sure that these haven't gone to issues around market access. The market access chapters are basically settled, as far as we're all concerned. We might be able to tweak this here or tweak that there when it comes to some of the suspensions, in particular, some of the main offensive interests of the United States with which, of course, now that the US isn't part of it, we don't feel needs to be there. We're all pulling in the same direction so I'm hopeful we'll do this deal.
Journalist: You mentioned the US interests no longer a part of TPP 11. When it comes to the overall statement that the APEC leaders will put out at the conclusion of these meetings, sources have been saying that there is some concern coming from the US, when it comes to the definition of free trade, issues around protectionism. Can you tell us a bit more about that, what those concerns might be that are holding up agreement there?
Steven Ciobo: I can't specifically point to the US position other than to observe that clearly, the Trump administration has a particular view about trade. From Australia's perspective, which is what I can speak to, we are unashamedly pro a multilateral rules-based global trading system. We think it has served the world very well, not withstanding there are, of course, pockets where we've had to make sure that we redistribute the benefits of those trade gains to everybody. But from Australia's perspective, we want to make sure that the language reflects a commitment to a multilateral, global, rules-based order.
Journalist: APEC, from its early days in its founding has been a champion of free trade. When you look at a crucial player, like the United States, signalling it wants to take a step back from some multilateral deals, organisations, is that ultimately a setback for the values such as free trade, right here at APEC?
Steven Ciobo: That's a decision for the US. The Trump administration has made it clear that they are very firmly of the view that they'll pursue bilateral trade deals. From Australia's perspective, we'll pursue multilateral. We'll pursue plurilateral, and we'll pursue bilateral. I've got eight trade negotiations under the way at the moment from Australia's perspective. We think multilateral is a very big part of it. We'll do bilateral deals as well if we can get good outcomes.
Journalist: You mentioned the Trump administration, there. It is about one year on since US President Donald Trump was elected. Then it was a few more months that it took for that now infamous phone call with Prime Minister Turnbull, there. How would you describe US-Australian relations today, and what are you expecting in the meetings with your counterparts here?
Steven Ciobo: Look, US-Australian relations remain really strong. We're great friends. We're allies. We've been good friends for many decades. That won't change. Irrespective of which administration is in power in Australia, irrespective of which administration is in power in the US, the long lasting core values that bring Australia
and Americans together will be there for a long time. So, the relationship is really strong, continues to be really strong, and we are making sure that we can work alongside each other in pursuit of great outcomes.
Journalist: The Chinese president is also expected to be in attendance here as a member of APEC. Right now we're looking at the big meetings with Trump and the Chinese, as well. It wasn't so long ago when we were listening to Chinese President Xi talk about, really insisting on more quality growth rather than quantity at the party congress. Are you prepared in your role as trade minister for the change that that means and the business that you do with China and Australia?
Steven Ciobo: Look, China is Australia's largest trading partner, as they are for many countries. It's not unique to Australia. That's their position with many, many countries around the world. I've got to say, from Australia's perspective, we really, are pleased and impressed with where China is continuing to go. The fact is that China continues to open their economy to more investment. They continue to remove barriers to trade.
Australia and China have one of the best bilateral free trade agreements in place that China has with any country. So from Australia's perspective, our engagement with China is great quality. We're able to work through issues. We recently had an issue around beef, which we were able to resolve in near record amount of time. So, I think our relationship with China is really strong. As I said, I welcome China's moves. They continue to open themselves up to investment, which is what the world needs.
Journalist: With President Xi really consolidating his power, do you worry that puts Australia in a weaker position at all, when comes to working on these trade arrangements?
Steven Ciobo: No look, I mean any time you can drive investment, any time you can drive trade, that's a good outcome for both countries concerned, or if there's more than two for a multitude of countries. Australia and China's relationship is really strong. Our relationship with Japan and the region is very, very strong and of course, our relationship with the United States. I mean we have been unashamedly, very forthright about the kinds of values that Australia stands up for. But we'll also pursue, in a pragmatic way, good trade investment deals that we know that are good for Australia.
Journalist: Let's talk about one trading partner that is not here today, that would be the UK. I think there's a lot of optimism in the UK that it would be rather easy for them to strike a bilateral deal in the aftermath of Brexit. You're also working on a deal with the EU, as well. How confident are you and how easy will it be to get that bilateral deal, once Brexit actually takes place?
Steven Ciobo: Well, I hope it will be relatively straightforward. As I mentioned, I've got eight trade deals under negotiation at the moment. So we've got a really active trade investment agenda that I'm pursuing for Australia. With the UK, we were the first working group that was established between Australia and the UK. We've got advanced discussions happening with the EU. Once the UK finally beds down their Brexit position, I mean they're not, understandably, they've got a lot going on, in terms of their exit negotiations from the EU. Once that is bedded down, we'll formalise the work that we've been doing in terms of the preliminary discussions and hopefully put in place a good quality deal.
Journalist: Steve, thank you very much for your time today. That is Steve Ciobo, the Australian Trade Minister.
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