ANNA EDWARDS: I wonder if I can start, as you’re there in Beijing, with your assessment of the Chinese economy. China, of course, is a big trading partner for Australia. Premier Li was in London last week pledging that there would be no hard landing for the Chinese economy, what’s your expectation?

ANDREW ROBB: Well, we’ve just had our first strategic economic dialogue with very senior members of the Chinese government and they gave us a detailed assessment, their assessment, of the state of play. It was quite a frank one, but it was optimistic in the sense that they didn’t see any hard landing either and I think they feel that that the anticipated problems they might have, or the difficulties, that they are all able to be overcome.

ANNA EDWARDS: Your two countries, China and Australia, a lot of trade goes on already, why do you need freer trade, what are you hoping to achieve here?

ANDREW ROBB: Well, China is our biggest export market but that’s true for 123 other countries around the world. We are their 7th biggest export market, so we are, despite a much smaller size in terms of the number of people, we are important especially from a resources and energy side of things. We’re looking for a free trade agreement to give more breadth to that relationship in terms of trade, and more depth, and to take us to the next stage I suppose to beyond the boom years in trade in resources and energy and into the next phase of agriculture, agribusiness, services and a wider relationship with China.

ANNA EDWARDS: And are you going to get this deal done in 2014, what are the sticking points?

ANDREW ROBB: Well, we are both, I think, getting more and more confident that we can complete it this year. I met with my counterpart on June 7 and we did really identify what we call a structural framework that would take us to an agreement by the end of the year. We talked through that again today with other senior members of the government and I think it’s quite doable. There is a political will, I think, on both sides, very much so, and there is certainly a need. China needs our services and we need their investment, amongst other things, so there is a great imperative for both of us and hopefully we can make it happen by the end of the year.

ANNA EDWARDS: And another trade agreement you’re trying to nail down of course, Minister, is the Trans Pacific Partnership. Update us on what your expectations are; what the Australian government’s expectations are regarding the timescale on that one?

ANDREW ROBB: Well I would say that it is probably 80 to 85 per cent there. But of course the end of every trade agreement is the hard part. So we’re into all the market access negotiations. I can see how this TPP can be concluded but it probably will take until the first half of next year. I think politically it is not going to happen in the US this year because of their mid-term elections and the politics there.

But there is a window, I think, in the first half of next year. I think physically we will be there. The political will is around the table. There are still a lot of negotiations to go on, but I can see a pathway to a conclusion; and a window, perhaps, in the first half of next year.

ANNA EDWARDS: And on another subject Minister, Australia currently chairs the G20. Your Prime Minister has taken climate change off the agenda at the G20. Do you anticipate having to put climate change back on? Do you think the US might apply some pressure, to try and put climate change back on the G20 agenda?

ANDREW ROBB: Well climate change was never on the G20 agenda. There was a suggestion from the US that they would like it discussed. We won’t stop anyone discussing any issue for that matter, so we quite welcome climate change if it was raised by the US, or by any other country.

But we had particularly wanted this year’s focus to be on growth, sustainable economic growth driven by, amongst other things, a strong trade and investment focus; and infrastructure focus. Those things would seem to us to be the priorities of the G20 countries at this stage; and we wanted everyone focussed on the immediate issues that they are concerned about, and that they are putting a lot of effort in to.

So that has been our focus, and we have had a very strong reaction, a supportive response, to that being the principle focus of the G20. But as I say, if people want to raise climate change, or any other issue for that matter, we certainly would not object to that.

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