LAURA JAYES: Joining me now live from Canberra is the Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo. Thanks so much for your time. Now you've just returned from China, what's your read on the situation, when it comes what to US and China have actually agreed to, there's scant details, but would it appear to you that there's a ceasefire, a trade war ceasefire at this point?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I think you summarized it best when you said scant details. Obviously, from Australia's perspective we're still looking to see how discussions between China and the United States are going, we anticipate getting more information, a clearer picture over the days ahead. But you know, I think Laura, fundamentally, if we can have an outcome, which leads to less volatility globally around trade, that's good. Obviously, I'm focused on what is in Australia's national interest. The reason why I was in China was to focus on our bilateral relationship, focus on making sure we continue to see the big gains that we've been making, in terms of the export of goods to China, for investment and those types of matters.
LAURA JAYES: As you said, you were in China to focus on our bilateral relationship, it's been quite a frosty relationship of late. What's the status of the relationship now?
STEVEN CIOBO: I wouldn't characterize it as frosty, what I'd say is we've got a very broad and deep trading relationship with China, we've got a strong investment relationship with China. These two fundamentals remains the case, you only have to look at the massive increases that we've seen in the export volumes and values from Australian to China, to see the relationship is one that is very strong. And that's not to paper over the fact that there are some areas of difference, of course there are areas of difference, and we're talking about those and resolving those-
LAURA JAYES: So what are those areas of difference?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, typically, they're not in relation to trade, they've been around some of the points of view that people have over, for example, South China Sea and matters there. But Australia has been consistent in terms of our view on those types of matters. My focus is on my portfolio and that is to look at our trade and investment and tourism relationship and that's been very strong, it continues to be very strong.
LAURA JAYES: Yes, you were in China, you were one of the first Ministers in a long time to be actually granted a diplomatic visa. Why were you granted a visa? Wat does it say about your role in particular, and you mentioned the South China Sea. What are you saying there? Are you saying China's been upset with some of the public statements that Government Ministers have made?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, I'm not saying that at all. What I'm saying is that my focus is on my portfolio, when it comes to trade, tourism and investment, the relationship between Australia is very strong, Australia and China is very strong. So yes, I mean I was last in China I think in September or October last year, I was pleased to have the opportunity to go again only last week. I'm very focused on making sure that we maximize opportunities for Australia with respect to the forthcoming China International Import Expo. This is going to be a absolutely, very significant event that's taking place in Shanghai. This is delivering on President Xi's vision for China about continuing to open up the economy to reform, continuing to open up the economy for investment opportunities. I mean, many Australians raise with me the question about saying, 'well, can Australia invest in China?' and the answer to that question is yes, we can and we see billions of dollars travelling from Australia to China to invest in that market-
LAURA JAYES: Sure, and look-
STEVEN CIOBO: - that's creating economic growth here, and it's creating jobs here.
LAURA JAYES: And full points for talking up the benefits of China and the good parts of our relationship at the moment. But what is the source of the tension with China at the moment, at this point it seems pretty unclear from what you're telling me. Is there a misunderstanding or is there a fundamental problem here?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, there certainly is not a fundamental problem and I mean you would need to ask others that question. From my perspective, the relationship is very good-
LAURA JAYES: But you're the first Minister that's been to Beijing in quite a long time, I would think that since you just returned you'd have a read on the situation.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I wouldn't say quite a long time. As I said, I was there only last September or October, together with the Treasurer for the Strategic Economic Dialogue. I was there again now in May, and I'll continue to travel to China regularly in pursuit of Australia's national interest. If you look at any of the metrics, Laura, you'll also see, for example, that our trade volumes are increasing substantially year on year to China. The number of Chinese students to Australia is continuing to grow. The number of tourists from China to Australia is continuing to grow. I mean Australia is very invested in this relationship. We want it to succeed and we know, fundamentally, I mean to go to your question about, "Well, what's the latest status of the relationship?" I mean I had a meeting with probably, if not the most, well the second most senior person in the Shanghai district, the Mayor of Shanghai, who indicated to me that China's view, like Australia's, is that through successful trade linkages and investment linkages we have prosperity, we have pace, and we have stability and that's in China's interest, that's in Australia's interest, and that's in the region's interest.
LAURA JAYES: So has there been a bit of a backlash though, from comments from Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, for example, accusing Beijing of funding useless infrastructure projects in the Pacific. Has there been a backlash from comments made around the South China Sea? Has there been a backlash at all from China to the Foreign Interference Bill that the Government's trying to introduce?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I know there's been a lot of media speculation about that, but I'll talk about the metrics-
LAURA JAYES: You're here to-
STEVEN CIOBO: In the metrics-
LAURA JAYES: Absolutely. You've got the full-court press now. You've got the, I will not interrupt you, but you can tell us.
STEVEN CIOBO: You just did.
LAURA JAYES: You can tell us exactly what it is then. What is the problem with China?
STEVEN CIOBO: Okay. Well, no. No, 'cause you've got an assertion in your question that there is a problem and what I'm saying is, if you look at the metrics in terms of trade volumes, we are seeing substantial increases. We've got really strong growth in terms of the exports of Australian goods to China, strong growth in terms of the export of services from Australia to China, strong growth in terms of the number of students that are coming from China to Australia, strong growth in terms of the number of tourists that are travelling from China to Australia, strong growth in terms of Australian investment into China. This is a strong bilateral relationship. Yes, from time to time we have irritants, but you know what? We have irritants from time to time-
LAURA JAYES: What are those irritants, Minister?
STEVEN CIOBO: -with other countries too.
LAURA JAYES: What are those irritants?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we see, for example, issues around the labelling of some Australian product. We saw last year, for example, where Australian beef had labelling issues. And so for a brief while there were prohibitions on certain processes, being able to export their product to China. They're the kinds of examples I speak about. We have some paperwork now that China's demanding from, among others, Treasury Wine Estates in relation to their wine. That issue was just raised with me around the middle of last year. So now I'm working closely with Chinese officials to try to resolve those issues as well because Australian wine exports to China is a big employer of local Australians.
LAURA JAYES: Julie Bishop is going to meet with her counterpart on the sidelines of the Summit in Argentina. Does Julie Bishop need to take some blame for the souring of the relationship as the former Ambassador Geoff Raby suggested last week?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, look, Geoff Raby's comments were wrong. Geoff Raby's comments are certainly very wide of the mark. The fact that, as I said, I've just been in China. The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is meeting with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi. These are all strong indications of a relationship that is strong, it's broad, it's deep. As I said, yes, from time to time there are irritants, but I think it's critical that we don't overstate the impact of irritants where we see them and most importantly that we maintain open lines of communication. We talk through these issues and we resolve these issues.
LAURA JAYES: We haven't-
STEVEN CIOBO: And that's what I'm absolutely focused on doing.
LAURA JAYES: We haven't heard a lot about the foreign interference legislation of late. Is it the Governments' intention still to introduce that and pass those changes?
STEVEN CIOBO: Yes, it is, but I'd also make the point, Laura, that that legislation isn't about China. That legislation is about Australia's sovereignty. It's not an issue about China. It's a statement about Australia's sovereignty. It applies equally to every other country in ensuring that Australia's sovereignty is held sacrosanct.
LAURA JAYES: Can I ask you about the live sheep trade? Now would there be problems with transitioning out of the live sheep trade? Why can't we, as Trade Minister, your perspective on this, transition into a packaged meat trade to places like Kuwait and Qatar. Would there be diplomatic issues with that? Would there be practical issues?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'd make the first observation Laura, which is that everybody wants to see animals treated humanely and ethically. I mean everyone is committed to making sure that we have a trade that is ethical and also mindful of animal welfare standards. Now having said that, we need to recognize that there are different standards. Now the good news is that Australia is at the very forefront of making sure that the standards that we impose, not just in terms of the actual export of the animals themselves on board the ships, but the entire supply chain. We're at the forefront of making sure we maintain rigorous standards and apply those standards to those that are exporting as well. Now we also need to speak really frankly, which is that if Australia vacates the field, other countries will move into that space. I know there are some people who are sort of a little misty-eyed, who take the view that we can vacate the field and we'll be able to transform overnight markets in other countries so that they don't engage in live sheep or other animal exports at all, but you know what? That's just not practical reality. And so if Australia vacates the field, when we're trying to be a good actor and bring good actors with us, other countries will move into that space and they will not have the same commitment that Australia does to enforcing, along the entirety of the supply chain, the ethical and humane treatment of animals. And that's precisely why we should not vacate the field because there will be job repercussions. There'll be repercussions on regional Australian farm incomes. There'll be repercussions of potentially diplomatic efforts in the markets as well and we saw, frankly, the complete failure that was Labors' policy when they, overnight, had a knee jerk reaction and banned live exports to Indonesia. And you see what a problem that kind of knee jerk policy is.
LAURA JAYES: Well, is that why David Littleproud made that trip to the Middle East over the weekend, to really calm the horses? Have Kuwait and Qatar expressed concerns to you over recent weeks about this talk of a ban?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we continue to have ongoing dialogue with these markets. Now this is a very big trade and it's worth a lot of jobs in Australia. There's a lot of money tied up in this trade. We need to maintain, at all times, open and clear lines of communication. Much the same way I just spoke to you about with regard to China. We've got to be talking to these customers, making sure that we're all on the same page when it comes to people's expectations. So I think David's approach ... I mean frankly you could not have a starker contrast between the Coalition's approach on managing this issue and Labor's approach on managing this issue. We saw what a complete and utter failure Labors' approach was, back when they had that knee jerk reaction with Indonesia. Contrast that with the proactive, forward leaning approach of David and this Coalition who are making sure we do this in an appropriate way.
LAURA JAYES: Well, the Graziers Association in WA Tony Seabrook, the head of that association, told the West Australian last week that buyers in Kuwait would snub WA as a source of packaged meat, in retaliation if Australia did go down the path of banning the live sheep trade. Does that marry with what you've heard, the threats that perhaps have been made behind the scenes?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, to be honest with you Laura I'm not that interested in sort of delving into what if this, what if that. Let's deal with realities in relation to the export as it currently stands, which is that we've commissioned, as a Government, the McCarthy Report. We've got 23 recommendations back. The Government is supportive of the 23 recommendations. Work needs to be done around the heat stress model that's been proposed. We need to make sure that the trade can continue to be viable, but in a way that is ethical and humane for the animals concerned. We're going to see lower stocking densities on board these vessels over the summer months and I think, you know, Australians would regard that as a positive thing. But we also want to make sure that we continue to maintain a trade where there's demand for it, and I've already spoken about the demand for this trade, and do so in a way that advantages Australia's national interest, and doesn't let other countries have their national interest prevail over ours, one. And two, actually have a less commitment from other countries to that ethical and humane treatment.
LAURA JAYES: If exporters can't comply this time, is this the last chance? Is that it?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I think we need to make sure that we continue to work closely with industry to achieve good outcomes. Industry is invested in this. Governments invested in this. Customers and customer markets are invested in this. So let's all work together-
LAURA JAYES: But their track record-
STEVEN CIOBO: -to make sure that we-
LAURA JAYES: Isn't good. How many more chances-
STEVEN CIOBO: -get the right outcome.
LAURA JAYES: Do they need?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look I don't think that's fair on the industry to say their track record isn't good. We do see isolated examples of where the track record is bad. I don't dispute that, but those are isolated examples. Let's not tar the full industry with the one brush because that's deeply unfair to an industry that's invested a lot of money, time, effort into making sure that, as I said, Australia is at the forefront of ethical treatment, humane treatment of animals, when it comes to live export.
LAURA JAYES: Steve Ciobo. Thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak with you.
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