HELEN DALEY: For more on this the Trade Minister Steve Ciobo joins me live from the nation’s capital, Minister, thanks very much for joining me. You’ve been around the world in many weeks.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that’s life of a Trade Minister, Helen-
HELEN DALEY: Yeah. No, exactly.
STEVEN CIOBO: - so that’s all part of what’s involved.
HELEN DALEY: Well it’s good to have you and talk trade, and back on the program. But just before we do talk, I want to ask you about this market selloff. Now the Dow Jones industrial had its worst one-day points drop, not percentage drop, overnight, partly on fears of inflation and US interest rates rising. The Australian market is very much over a 3% drop today, RBA did not move our interest rates, as expected. But, are you concerned for this equities market sell-off? It wipes a huge amount of value from Australian companies, and, it wipes a huge amount of value from individual Australians' wealth, and their retirement savings.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I mean, at the risk of stating the obvious, equities go up, equities go down. But, what matter is what is happening, in terms of the forecasts. What's the market anticipate in 6 months, 12 months, 18 months down the track. Now, we all know, it is a cliché for a reason, that people say, when the US sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. Well quite clearly, in terms of the economic cycle, the United States has got really strong economic growth, very low levels of unemployment, and expectations are that the Fed is going to increase interest rates, as an attempt to tighten monetary policy. Now, if that happens, understandable. The markets have priced in a downturn in equities, and that's being reflected after what has been an incredibly strong bull-run for quote a period of time. So, what we're seeing is some retraction-
HELEN DALEY: Do you have some sympathy for Australians? And their retirement savings?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, of course. I mean, every Australian that's invested in superannuation has got huge exposure to equities, and, I think you've got to look at in the context, Helen, of what's going on. And, what's going is, we've seen a really strong bull-run on equities, and now we're seeing some retraction of some of that bull-run. I think anyone who's in equities, the soundest advice that anyone could ever give any of them, is to take a long-term view, to not try to play it on the basis of what's happening on any one particular day, but to take a long-term, considered view. That's what you need to do around retirement savings. You take a long-run, considered view about what's happening, and, in that respect, we've got the economic conditions right to continue to strengthen the Australian economy. Economic growth, strong employment growth, all that bodes well for our future.
HELEN DALEY: The RBA leaving rate's on hold. Does that say that they are still quite worried about the Australian economy? That it's not strong enough to normalise rates.
STEVEN CIOBO: No, I wouldn't phrase it that was. What I would say, based on my observations, is that the RBA is satisfied that inflation isn't about to break out. And, I think that in the context of them being satisfied that we're not seeing any real pressure that requires venting, in terms of inflation, that they're happy for rates to stay where they are for the time being.
HELEN DALEY: Let's talk trade. The TPP mark two, it's got the fancy name of Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. How confident are you that this will be ratified without the United States?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, very confident. This is a good agreement. It's an agreement between the eleven remaining countries, excluding the United States. As I've said on numerous occasions, we were disappointed, but not surprised, when the US withdrew from the TPP. But look, what we have now is a very good agreement, a great agreement for Australia. We're now opening access to $13.7 trillion worth of global economic activity, among the eleven countries that are there. And, in fact, on a cold, calculated basis, if you look at Australia's position, vis-a-vis North America’s, our position has strengthened. I mean, we now have, for example, into Japan, much more competitively-priced beef, versus US beef, because the United States now sits outside of the TPP-11. That's just to cite one example, Helen, where this is really gonna work in our favour.
HELEN DALEY: Yeah, so, are you saying that we are in a better position without the United States being part of this?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'm just giving ... I'm not saying the United States shouldn't be in the deal. We would welcome them back, we think it would be terrific for all countries-
HELEN DALEY: You're saying it's better for us without them?
STEVEN CIOBO: What I'm saying is, on beef, into Japan, our beef is more competitively-priced than US beef is, because we are seeing a faster tariff phase-down than, for example, the United States is.
HELEN DALEY: Right. With other products, aside from beef, and services, what actual products, and services, will do better with these new nations that we're dealing with?
STEVEN CIOBO: Sure. Well, the first thing to realize, under the TPP-11 is that we've got a new free-trade agreement as such, with Mexico and Canada. Now, that's gonna be terrific news for Australian exporters. The more we are able to put in place free trade agreements,
that directly translates to reduced barriers to trade, to lower tariffs, and to great investment facilitation. When we do that, all parts of the Australian economy benefit so I'm not going to sit here and cherry-pick favourites. What I am gonna say is, we're reducing tariffs, we're reducing barriers to trade, we're facilitating investment, and the consequence of that will be that the Australian economy, overall, gets a boost.
HELEN DALEY: Minister Ciobo, Japan was insistent on pushing this forward. You were also a key proponent. You've been a major negotiator as part of it. Why is being so open, in terms of trade in the Pacific, Asian region, so crucial for Australia?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, Helen, it is critical. I mean, the fact is that, if you look at Australia's history, and the fact that, and I'll be fair, under successive governments, we've seen, historically, an embrace of an open economy. Australia's been a beneficiary of that. We are seeing a country now that we've continued to see growth in our national prosperity, our GDP per capita continues to grow. This has really helped to drive Australia's economic success. It's part of the reason, it's not the sole reason. It's part of the reason why we have set a new world record for a developed economy, now into our 27th year of continuous economic growth. So, that's what we are focused on, continuing to open markets for Australian exporters, to power economic growth, and to drive job creation here in Australia.
HELEN DALEY: Alright. Just on this particular deal, are you concerned at all how China, which is our key trading partner, how it might view the TPP?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, not at all. I mean, of course I've had many discussions with China, about the TPP, and, as you know, we're currently in negotiations with 15 other countries as part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, what's called RCEP. That, like the TPP, is, potentially, a big regional trade agreement. China's in there, India's in there, the ASEAN countries are in there, Korea's in there, New Zealand's in there, so, if we can get that deal over the line as well, that will be another boost to our trade framework.
HELEN DALEY: Now, you also criticized, in recent weeks, the US, and particularly the Trump Administration, following their slapping tariffs on washing machines and solar panels. What is your worry about these protectionist signals, and do you think Donald Trump is going to go further down this track?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'll just point out, by saying, I haven't criticized the US. What I have done is outlined Australia's approach-
HELEN DALEY: You criticized-
STEVEN CIOBO: Australia's approach is different-
HELEN DALEY: -protectionist signals, didn't you? In a speech in San Francisco.
STEVEN CIOBO: Oh, sure. I've certainly been critical of protectionism, but that's a slightly different thing-
HELEN DALEY: You don't think putting tariffs on washing machines, solar panels, is protectionist?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we're getting into semantics.
HELEN DALEY: Alright, well, my interpretation -
STEVEN CIOBO: What I would say ... Well, no, because, I mean, the fact is that you can have examples of where goods are being dumped, for example, and, even the WTO recognizes that countervailing duties, in most situations, make good economic sense. But, look, I don't want, we're really getting into the weeds now-
HELEN DALEY: Alright.
STEVEN CIOBO: My point is this, though. Protectionism in Australia's history is proven to be spectacularly unsuccessful. All around the world, you can look at countries, take for example Argentina. They've experimented with protectionism. Protectionism doesn't work. The Australian Labor Party, and certainly the trade union, are calling for pro-protectionist policies. They don't work, and that's why I've been very firm in rejecting that, because all that will lead to are lower levels of prosperity in the future.
HELEN DALEY: And yet, you know that a number of minor parties, and certainly, part of Mr. Trump's appeal to a certain type of voter, was that other countries are thieves, that they're stealing our jobs, and there's a certain adherence to that kind of thinking in this country, too.
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, but that's not new. We have seen examples in Australia's history, I mean at Federation, Helen, we had a protectionist party. I mean, it's actually been a part of the Australian political landscape for many, many decades. My role as Trade Minister, Investment Minister, is not only to, obviously, open up markets for Australian exporters, it's also to do what I can around advocacy about the benefits of free trade, and liberalized trade investment. The fact is that, Australia, as I said, now at our 27th year of continuous economic growth, has benefited hugely from opening up markets, and opening up exports.
HELEN DALEY: Alright. I want to ask you, very briefly, we're gonna run out of time, Minister, the new tourism campaign, featuring a kind of a remake, of sorts, of Crocodile Dundee. I think we've got some vision of it, if people haven't already clicked on it, which you showed at the Super Bowl yesterday. Now, what has been the actual, quantifiable response to that in the first 24 hours, in terms of actual bookings, or proper inquiries to come to Australia?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, it's probably, frankly, a little soon to look at actual bookings in the last 24 hours. What I can tell you is, the amount of social media engagement, and the value of the equivalent, if you were to pay for it in advertising. I mean, the advertising equivalent is now well over $40 million. And, if you look at the number of social media hits, it's more than 600 million social media hits. So, on any measure, it's been a tremendous success. To go to your very direct question about actual bookings, that's just gonna take a bit more time. That's not something that happens in 24 hours. People don't decide to go on international holiday with 24 hours' notice, but we'll see over the months ahead what that translates to, in terms of increased numbers.
HELEN DALEY: Alright. Steven Ciobo, the Trade Minister, appreciate you joining us this afternoon. Thank you.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak with you.
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