2GB Money Matters, Interview with Ross Greenwood

Subjects: Trade relations with Indonesia, World Trade Organization Ministerial Meeting in Bali.

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

2 December 2013

ROSS GREENWOOD: Thanks for your time Andrew Robb.

ANDREW ROBB: Good evening Ross.

ROSS GREENWOOD: It is a delicate time, let's be honest, to be in Indonesia negotiating trade. Would you agree with that?

ANDREW ROBB: Obviously there has been some issues in the last three or four weeks to do with intelligence matters. This is a major international event it is the World Trade Organization, 159 member countries. Indonesia are hosting this meeting and in fact there's a meeting that went on before the WTO meeting of the 20 countries, agricultural exporting countries, and the Trade Minister for Indonesia Gita Wirjawan, he co-chaired it with me.

We have just spent the last two-and-a-half hours co-chairing a meeting and he's a good fellow who I have come to know quite well and I thought we worked pretty well as a team to be honest.

ROSS GREENWOOD: I was going to ask you that exact question, having worked with him, do you believe that our reputation with Indonesia now, is at all damaged by those spying allegations over the past few weeks, is it a case where Australia is going to be damaged from a trade perspective as a result of those things?

ANDREW ROBB: It's not by expectation no Ross, I think it was an issue that they were obviously angered by and wanted to see resolution and the statements we have seen now from the president and from our prime minister suggest that we will find a path through that.

From the trade point of view I think that hopefully we can get on as business as usual and you will notice I think in the last three weeks that there has been no focus on trade as a response to the difference that we've got or that we've had between one another and I am very hopeful that we will see a resumption of what has been what I think a very successful relationship and one that can only go from strength to strength.

ROSS GREENWOOD: You talk about the 159 member states there at the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference. This is an attempt to try and get the so-called Doha round of negotiations, the trade liberalisation to try and remove barriers, subsidies, taxes, regulations to try and if you like to improve some of the losses that occur when goods go through borders all of this type of thing.

I mean that round of the Doha talks had really almost stagnated, gone nowhere for a period of time, is there any real sense of optimism that they are going to be restimulated, reignited?

ANDREW ROBB: There's quite a lot of nervousness. We're on the cusp of something that will, I think, re-energise the World Trade Organization. To get 159 countries to unanimously agree to a set of reforms is no small order.

As you say, the Doha round is, if you like, a very comprehensive set of changes that would require many countries to remove, as you say, the taxes and regulations and the tariffs and all the rest of it that had stalled badly.

What we're doing at the moment in Indonesia is trying to agree on, if you like, a sub-set, so things that will facilitate trade; a small agricultural package which will take things forward, but not as much as the Doha Round had proposed. It is really to try and restore some momentum and see if we can succeed with a sub-set of the issues. Albeit it's important that trade facilitation is agreed to, it will improve income around the world by about $70 billion a year. So it's not insignificant. But as I say, getting everyone on the same page from 159 countries is no small order. But there is a sense that something will come out of this at the end of this week.

ROSS GREENWOOD: You mentioned earlier on the Indonesian Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan and the chairing of that meeting that was obviously of the so-called Cairns Group. We mentioned 159; the Cairns Group is just 19 agricultural exporting countries that have almost created that sub-set, if you like. Has that group got more cooperation, more ability to be able to get the real free trade amongst themselves to be able to push, if you like, or create influence inside the broader group of nations?

ANDREW ROBB: It has been influential, I think it was particularly influential in the Uruguay Round which occurred through the '90s and was seen by everybody as a very significant movement.

The Cairns Group has been in existence since 1986, and in fact ironically at that time I was running the National Farmers Federation and was involved with the establishment of the Cairns Group. It is now 20 countries after today, we have just accepted Vietnam into the Group, so 20 exporting agricultural countries.

They are a very committed group, a united group, and they have had quite a lot of influence and before the meeting was held there was a group of farmers from all of those countries who I met with who come and support the Cairns Group and try and advise the Cairns Group.

It is an important cell, if you like, within the World Trade Organization, because there's been a lot of movement in other areas of tariff reform and all the rest, but agriculture's still stuck back in the 19th century in some respects. So we've got to keep the pressure on, keep agriculture central to this World Trade Organization considerations.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Because the people who may be sitting there and listening to this are going "well, what's this got to do with me?". This is really about allowing Australia to become the food bowl of Asia that we hear, that we've talked about so often. Of course the reality is you've got to have a market to sell those products to, and you've got to have a certain amount of liberalisation of trade to be able to allow your agricultural goods out of the country to go and feed those nations that are emerging

ANDREW ROBB: Well you're absolutely right. A lot of it is market access. I'll just give you one example; New Zealand negotiated four years ago a free trade agreement with China. Now that was just an agreement between two countries, we are trying to do one with 159, but the principle is the same. New Zealand negotiated a free trade agreement and they got a lot more access – market access for their dairy products.

In the last four years, the New Zealand dairy industry has increased its income from China alone by $2.2 billion whilst Australia has increased its income from China over the same time for dairy by $60 million. So you can see once the market access and the barriers are removed, it can materially improve the situation. And I was talking with the New Zealand Minister, and he said that the dairy farmers this year will get their highest payment for milk ever, because of what's happened just with China in the last four years. So if we can deregulate the other countries, imagine the opportunities that will open up.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Which is exactly the reason why they are all scrabbling right now over the Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Company, of course, Andrew Robb, a very interesting one along the side.

Andrew Robb is our Trade Minister; Trade and Investment Minister in Bali at the moment for the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference; and we appreciate your time Andrew.

ANDREW ROBB: It's my pleasure. All the best Ross.

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