LAURA JAYES: One of the men central to the negotiations over the last week, the Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo. Thanks so much for your time. We'll get to the ins and outs of how we came to this point in a moment, but first of all, will you rule out Australia being part of any formal World Trade Organization challenge to the Trump tariffs?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, as the Prime Minister made clear today, yes, we won't be part of an action where we don't have a complaint, because it won't be part of injury being visited on Australia. In other words, we won't see Australian steel or aluminium subjected to this tariff, and so we wouldn't be part of that action.
LAURA JAYES: Why did you leave the door open yesterday? Yesterday you said it would be a case-by-case basis.
STEVEN CIOBO: Because that was a broader question about WTO actions in relation to observer status and matters like that, but on steel and tariff, we couldn't be any more clear, no, we wouldn't be part of an action. And that's why some of the commentary has been a little strange this morning, but let's be very clear about it, as the PM has been. No.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, so the EU has not ruled out action at the WTO. I imagine that Australia would agree with the European Union's stance on this, at least in principle. So why wouldn't Australia attack this action? Because you don't want to poke our ally, Donald Trump, in the eye after he's just given Australia such a reprieve? Is that the reason?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, as I said, it's because we're not going to be subjected to it, so we won't be sustaining an injury, so we don't be part of an action when we're not incurring any injury.
LAURA JAYES: Okay. Australia has secured these important exemptions. As I mentioned before, we're only one of three countries. How likely is it that steel, though, and aluminium that was bound for other countries might start to make its way to Australia anyway?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I think we need to certainly be aware of that possibility. Indeed, this is a conversation that I've had with Senator Seselja, who's got responsibility in terms of the Anti-Dumping Commission, which is one of his agencies. We as a Government are going to be very vigilant about making sure we don't see Australia having steel or aluminium dumped into our country. That's not fair trade, it's not good for Australian jobs. That's why we have the Anti-Dumping Commission, it's why under the Coalition we strengthened the Anti-Dumping Commission, and it's why I'm very confident that it will see and take action where necessary to ensure that we don't have this problem occurring.
LAURA JAYES: The Anti-Dumping Commission, though, could very well in the months ahead be faced with a new environment. Are you absolutely sure that it is equipped to deal with this potential new environment?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, absolutely. I mean, the Coalition saw an overhaul of a number of powers of the Anti-Dumping Commission. We've given the Anti-Dumping Commission more resources. It's very well placed. It's been very effective. It works closely with industry. And we have had quite a number of decisions taken by the Anti-Dumping Commission in relation to steel imports, where we have seen dumping of steel product into Australia. They've been on the front foot, they've been aggressive about ensuring that we don't see dumped product coming into this country, and that's what they will continue to do.
LAURA JAYES: Will you consider this call by Labor to have an extra 30 staff put on an investigative team, or do you deem it unnecessary?
STEVEN CIOBO: I think that's Labor at one minute to midnight trying to shuffle their way into the picture by inventing a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. The fact is that the Anti-Dumping Commission does a very effective job. That's why Labor's never said anything about it.
LAURA JAYES: So that's a "No"?
STEVEN CIOBO: Exactly.
LAURA JAYES: Okay. Well, look, you're a champion of free trade, and you have struck the agreement with Peru. You're the Trade Minister, I don't need to point that out to you or our audience, but I just wonder, a bit more philosophically and ideologically, how do these anti-dumping provisions, the ones that we could be looking at imposing over the next couple of months, how are they compatible with free trade? Is there a risk that we could be engaging in a form of protectionism?
STEVEN CIOBO: Not at all. I mean, this is entirely consistent with being a firm believer in the benefits of liberalized trade. The simple fact is, it is not an efficient marketplace if you have product being dumped into a market below cost price or below the price it's sold in the home country or the country of origin. That's market-distorting behaviour. It is not logical, it's not rational, and that's precisely the reason why an Anti-Dumping Commission is actually provided for, under World Trade Organization guidelines. So this is something that pretty much every country has, because we do, unfortunately, see from time to time product that is dumped from markets, and that's why the WTO itself says you can have an anti-commission, it can work to make sure you don't get dumped product.
LAURA JAYES: Minister, how has it been dealing with the Trump administration, over the last week in particular? Because from the outside looking in, it looks like it's been a pretty wild ride, at times.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I've got to say that the US Trade Representative, Ambassador Lighthizer, and I have an excellent working relationship. We've worked very closely together since his appointment on a range of initiatives, including on an e-commerce initiative that Australia championed, together with Singapore and Japan, and the United States came on board with that. So I've got to say that I've found them very good, and the President, true to his words, stood by the exemption that he was giving Australia, which he announced at the G20 last year. I kept saying, you'd recall Laura, last week and the week before that we needed to give this time for the process to work through. We've had the time now. The Prime Minister spoke to the President on the weekend, and the exemption is there.
LAURA JAYES: Is that because you were given assurances behind the scenes, or is this because, basically, those people that you say you have a strong relationship were saying, "Well, we need to work out what Donald Trump really means, and they were trying to work out what his tweets actually meant"? Does it come down to once again trying to decipher what the Prime Minister is saying in those tweets? And how important are those personal relationships between you and your counterpart, Joe Hockey, Malcolm Turnbull?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I think the relationship is very important, and there's no doubt that our Ambassador, Joe Hockey, is doing an outstanding job as Australia's Ambassador to the United States. I've got a great working relationship, as I said, with the United State Trade Representative, my counterpart. The Prime Minister obviously has a very good and effective working relationship with the President. I mean, all of these things work together to ensure that Australia's national interest is well-served, and the Prime Minister makes it clear, you need to be relentless about defending Australian workers, defending Australian jobs, and defending Australia's national interest.
LAURA JAYES: As you know, Donald Trump is all about the art of the deal. He wrote a book about it. Some say he might have had a ghost writer, but that's for another time. Now, this is a huge favour from Donald Trump for a security ally. Do you expect that he'll call in this IOU down the track somehow?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, let me just pull you off on that, because I actually don't think that's the correct way to characterize it. It's not a huge favour for Australia. This is actually a win-win outcome. It's a win for the United States as much as that it's a win for Australia, and the reason being because BlueScope has a subsidiary in the United States called Steelscape, and Steelscape employs thousands of people in the US.
LAURA JAYES: Sure, but Donald Trump has said that this decision has been partly made on national security grounds. This exemption given to Australia, given to Canada and Mexico, what does that say about Europe, for example? Are they not friends?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'm not going to provide a commentary on what the President's doing. I can only say that the decision that's taken here has been a win for Australia and a win for the United States, good for Australian workers, good for US workers, and that's the reason why it was a logical conclusion to arrive at.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, so Donald Trump won't be calling in any special favours down the track? Because if you look at the history, at least, of the last year, he was not happy about the immigration deal. You say this one is a win-win, but perhaps he might lean on Australia for other means down the track.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, you're crystal ball gazing, Laura, about what the future might hold.
LAURA JAYES: But surely you've war-gamed this, Minister. Surely you've war-gamed that this might be eventuality.
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, all I can say is that there's no strings at all that are attached to this decision. This is a good outcome, and as the Prime Minister's made clear, as I, as the Foreign Minister have made clear, there are no strings attached to this. This is an exemption for Australia, and Australia and the United States have been firm friends, good trading partners, good investment partners, strong allies for decades, and I'm sure that will continue into the future as well.
LAURA JAYES: Okay, we will see. Minister, thank you so much for your time.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak with you.
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