KIERAN GILBERT: And now to the Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo, who was in China in this last week, and the Foreign Minister saying there's no freeze, everything's fine, but we know in your space that Treasury Wines, for example, have had a bit of rough work in trying to get their exports into the country.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Kieran, I think it's important to keep a sense of perspective and scale about all of this. One of my concerns has been that we've seen, frankly, relatively modest concerns being blown up all over front pages, etc., which doesn't really accurately equate to the nature of the relationship. So let's be clear on a couple of things. If you look at our trade investment relationship with China, that continues to grow. We've seen really strong increases in the volume of exports to China. Our investment relationship is very strong, and as you know, I was just there more recently. Now, from time to time, I'm not going to paper over this, from time to time we do see some irritants, and we've seen now, for example, requests for additional paperwork from Treasury Wine Estates. That was raised with me last week. I'm now working with them to try to resolve that issue.
KIERAN GILBERT: And in relation to that, do you think it was, you know, an isolated reaction to recent debate in this country? Why did Treasury have that hurdle?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well I think that's a really difficult question to answer. You're asking me, "Why is China asking Treasury Wine Estates for paperwork in relation to certificates of origin?" Or I should say, a higher level of paperwork, certificates of origin. I can't answer that. I don't know. I'm not, obviously, the Chinese customs officials that are looking at this. But what I can speak to, in an aggregate sense, is what's happening, as I said, with trade. And what we see are really strong growth in the number of Chinese students coming to Australia, the number of Chinese tourists that are coming to Australia, the volume of exports, even including, for example, wine and agricultural products into China. We're continuing to see ongoing dialogue between China and Australia. So this is all part and parcel of a relationship which, as I've described on numerous occasions, is broad, it's deep, it's mature. Yes, we do have some differences, but let's not try to pretend that the whole thing is no good.
KIERAN GILBERT: That's fair enough, but I mean, it's not the Chinese customs officials making the decision. As you know, it would have been a much more centrally decided course of action. In that country, that's how it always works. But in a way-
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, but that's an assertion. I'm sorry, Kieran, you don't know that. You know what?
KIERAN GILBERT: I think it's a fair assumption.
STEVEN CIOBO: We stop and ask for additional paperwork of people that are importing things into this country. It's part of what we do as well. Now, it may prove to be that the quantities involved are large enough. But you know what, I'm not really that interested in megaphone diplomacy between Australia and China. My focus is upon trying to resolve these issues as quickly and effectively as we can, so that we can get this back on track, and we can have you know, no barriers to this trade.
KIERAN GILBERT: I understand that, and you are the Trade Minister, of course, you're not a journalist or commentator. But from most commentators would suggest that it was a shot across the bow from the Chinese in a sense, in a trade sense, just a couple of weeks after a Budget which is basically underpinned, predicated upon Chinese growth. It's not like our broader economy's not dependent on it.
STEVEN CIOBO: But we're seeing strong growth, though, Kieran. No, but Kieran, this is the point. We are seeing strong growth, and I really I can't reinforce this enough. If you look at the volumes, if you look at the agricultural exports, if you look at the wine exports, if you look at the numbers of services exports, and by services exports I mean things like Chinese students, and I mean things like Chinese tourists, we're seeing really strong growth across the sectors. And year-on-year-
KIERAN GILBERT: That's true, but the Chinese are saying this is all… that's fine, there’s growth, but the point is that that was a shot across the bow, that you're putting it at jeopardy. That's basically what the view has been that the Chinese have responded so assertively, just to say look, just remember who’s, you know, what's what in all of this.
STEVEN CIOBO: Kieran, the simple fact is if you ... Look, let's distill this down to the basics, okay? What is that Australians want to know? Australians want to know that as a Government, we are delivering on our commitment to them to keep opening up export opportunities for Australia. Now, we did that in a very major way with the FTAs, that is, the free trade agreements we put in place with Japan, Korea, and China. But since then, what I've been focused on is continuing to broaden so we can continue to diversify our export interests. You know, we brought home the TPP-11, which is going to open up big markets to Australian exporters. We did the deal with Singapore. We've done the deal with Peru. We're shortly, I hope, about to launch FTA negotiations with the European Union. There are a whole range of different areas where, as a Government, we are delivering upon our commitment to give Australian exporters the very best opportunities, so that they can export more Australian product around the world, help to drive our economy, and most importantly, help to create jobs for Australians.
KIERAN GILBERT: But the Chinese, as we know, with the foreign students and we've seen them react aggressively in a trade sense with the Koreans, for example, shutting down basically any trade with one particular company, Lotte, a couple of years ago. That's the backdrop to this trade relationship, isn't it, that they are a giant, we're dependent upon them, and it's a balancing act between our strategic and security priorities and trying to maintain the good trade ties that obviously is your focus?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that's right. My focus is upon making sure that our trade with our largest trading partner, China, can continue strongly. We have a mature relationship with China. I've said this hundreds of times.
KIERAN GILBERT: Yep.
STEVEN CIOBO: You know, that doesn't mean that we have to see eye-to-eye on everything. What it does mean is we acknowledge where there are differences, we approach each other in a respectful way, mindful of each other's sovereignty, and focused on what we can do together to ensure that we have stability in the region, peace in the region, and prosperity in the region. And the best way we can drive those three things: peace, stability, and prosperity, is through good trade and good investment ties, as well as building on the people-to-people links that we have.
KIERAN GILBERT: On to some local news, the tax debate. One Nation said they backed the company tax plan. Now they've backflipped. How do you manage dealing with this party and a leader who's quite clearly attention-seeking with all of this, and worried about a drop in the polls?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well look, we continue of course to speak with the Senate Crossbench. We are focused on trying to make sure we can deliver on our commitment to the Australian people. As a Government, we make no apology for the fact that we are absolutely committed to reducing the tax burden on Australians. We want to drive more investment, in terms of the business community, because we know that businesses investing in their businesses drives economic growth and drives jobs. And as a Government, we have been absolutely laser-like with our focus upon creating the right business conditions to drive jobs. Now, for all those who want to stand in the way and say that, you know, the last thing we should do is make Australia's business environment less or more competitive, in other words, they want us to be less competitive by having higher business taxes, well unfortunately, the price that will be paid for that will be more Australians unable to secure work opportunities that they otherwise would get. In other words, higher taxes means fewer jobs. You can't put it more basic than that.
KIERAN GILBERT: But this One Nation approach, it's pretty blatant, isn't it, what's going on here in terms of supporting it in March, the same timeframe, the same tax cut schedule? You get to what, a couple of months later and it's a terrible thing, it's not going to have the impact? How do you manage that? How do you deal with that?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well Kieran, if you want to talk about the most stark example of political opportunism from a political party, you can't go frankly any further than the Australian Labor Party. I mean, Bill Shorten, when he was last in Government, championed business tax cuts. He stood in the Chamber, and he said, "These are the best thing. This is going to drive investment, it's going to create jobs." He goes into Opposition, and all of a sudden Bill Shorten doesn't want to know anything about it. So if you want to talk about absolute rank political opportunism, you can't go any further than the Australian Labor Party.
KIERAN GILBERT: Steve Ciobo, thank you.
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