BEN FORDHAM: I want to put some questions to our man in Chile or Chile as they say these days and that is our Trade Minister Steve Ciobo. Minister, Good Afternoon.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good to be with you, Ben.

BEN FORDHAM: Have you read the agreement cover to cover?

STEVEN CIOBO: No. I'll be honest with you. I haven't read the agreement cover to cover. That's not something that I've done. We've obviously have whole teams that work on these agreements. We've got the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, our trade negotiators, and they talk to all of the key stakeholders. We make sure we consult industry the entire way. They’re the ones who provide input to us and help us negotiate what it is that we try to achieve here.

BEN FORDHAM: So Australian officials have read the TPP cover to cover, that's the point?

STEVEN CIOBO: Yes exactly, of course. What it is Ben, you've got thousands and thousands of product lines and items like that all of which are covered off and all of which are negotiated. That's all contained in the document.

BEN FORDHAM: Now, we're told the TPP will give preferential access to the 11 countries for more than $5.5 billion worth of exports. Preferential trade isn't free trade, is it? It's a bit misleading when we talk about free trade.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, you know Ben, honestly I think some of these things are splitting hairs. I mean what this is all about is providing liberalised trade. In other words, removing barriers to trade. The reasons we want to remove barriers to trade is because we know that if we could take away barriers then we can encourage more trade and encouraging more trade means more economic growth and more jobs.

BEN FORDHAM: Nearly a quarter of Australia's total exports, which is worth $88 billion, go to those 11 TPP countries so that's a quarter of our total exports. What about the other three quarters because they'll be many others out there saying, ‘well, what about us?’

STEVEN CIOBO: Well a lot of that is already covered by trade deals. As you know Ben, we've recently as a Coalition concluded major trade deals with North Asian powerhouse economies of Japan, Korea, and China. We of course, got the trade agreement in place with Singapore. I'm currently negotiating a trade agreement with Indonesia and one with Hong Kong. We've recently concluded a trade agreement with Peru, We’re in negotiations for a trade agreement with the Pacific alliance countries. So, this has been the most active trade agenda for Australia’s ever had. I'm very pleased to be spearheading it. I'm doing it because it means the more market access we can get for Australian exporters, as I've said, the more economic growth and the more jobs we'll help create.

BEN FORDHAM: The countries part of this agreement, Vietnam, Singapore, Peru, New Zealand, Mexico, Malaysia, Japan, Chile, Canada, Brunei, and Australia. Some say ‘look, these smaller countries will gain the most and that's not so great for Australia.’

STEVEN CIOBO: No. I would reject that. The fact is that this in particular for Australia, sees for the first time has new free trade agreements with Canada and Mexico. Two very major economies with which we haven't previously had trade agreements, so this is giving us good market access to those two new countries. Plus, for example, with Japan we have much better market access. We more rapidly reduced the tariffs on Australian products going to Japan under TPP-11. It's also good for those markets where they already have an established trade.

BEN FORDHAM: 457 Visas. Let's talk about them because other TPP countries will reportedly have free reign to come and work here with no checks to see if an Australian can fill the job first. Is that fair to say that's there going to be easier access to Australia for foreign workers?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well again Ben, I completely reject that and I’ve seen unfortunately the union movement out there running, again, another scare campaign completely not based on fact. It's very frustrating that the Australian trade union movement just constantly are out there peddling misinformation and deliberately so. What they're talking about is what's called labour market testing. What we have done for a very, very limited range of skilled occupations and I stress again, skilled occupations. It's best to think about this in terms of a company that operates across different markets. So you might have a big business that operates for example in Mexico, Canada, and Australia. Well they want to be able to transfer executives inside that business, between those markets and we've made it easier for them to do so. In return, they've made it easier for Australian executives for example, to travel between those same markets. So that's what we're talking about here. We're not talking about unskilled labour. We're not talking about motor skills labour or anything like that, which is what the unions would have you believe.

BEN FORDHAM: We're speaking to the Trade Minister Steve Ciobo who's on the line from Chile. He's signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement tomorrow with 11 nations all up. The United States isn't a part of it, Mr. Ciobo, Donald Trump doesn't want a bar of it. In fact, he's going in the other directions. He's talking about tariffs on aluminium and steel. And I know that you've said on an interview with Chris Kenny here on 2GB a couple of Fridays ago that we had a verbal understanding, Australia had a verbal understanding, that those tariffs would not be slapped on us. Are you still confident of that?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well look, we've certainly seen some language coming out of the White House in the last couple of hours, which is quite encouraging, where we've see the White House spokeswoman making remarks about there being some country exemptions in place. Now of course, we welcome that. That's consistent with our understanding from the G20, the discussion that was held between the Prime Minister and the President, but we need to continue to work through this. You know, we're throwing everything at this, and making sure that we're doing a following effort to represent Australian interests as best as we possibly can.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay. You will be holding Donald Trump to that deal that Australia will be exempt from any of those tariffs?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, we've made that argument multiple times. The Prime Minister has raised that directly with the President. I've raised it with my counterparts. We'll continue to make the case.

BEN FORDHAM: Just pick up the phone and call the President and say ‘listen, Donald you're doing it my way not your way, son’. What are you laughing at?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that's the case I've certainly made with my counterpart, Secretary Ross, when he and I met, most recently in Washington only a week or two ago.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay. Well look, I look forward to discussing all these matters with you upon your return. Thank you so much for sparing some time with us from Chile.

STEVEN CIOBO: Great to speak to you Ben and thank you for your interest.

BEN FORDHAM: Good on you. Steve Ciobo, the Minister for Trade. That agreement will be signed tomorrow our time.

Media enquiries

  • Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555