TICKY FULLERTON: Now you might well ask with all the nationalism, the Trump tantrums and the China tensions, who would be a trade minister at present? The job in Australia falls to Minister Steven Ciobo, who joins me live from Canberra. Minister, thank you very much for joining us there.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to be with you Ticky.
TICKY FULLERTON: Can I ask you first about your reaction to the Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump meeting today?
STEVEN CIOBO: Oh look, it's early days but certainly encouraging. I think if there's, able to have momentum built off the back of this historic discussion today, that would be clearly good for the people of Korea, both North and South, as well as more broadly for the region. Ultimately we are all invested in a more stable, prosperous, and peaceful region. And if we're able to achieve resolution and denuclearization off the back of this and subsequent discussions, then that would be a very big step forward.
TICKY FULLERTON: Shouldn't we be slightly nervous about this though? It is a bilateral discussion, we have special relationships, we've got free trade agreements with both Japan and South Korea. Is there any risk that this bilateral deal, when it comes to the details, might be written up in favor of the United States, potentially at the expense of some of our other close trading partners?
STEVEN CIOBO: I think we're probably getting a little ahead of ourselves, Ticky, with that question. They’ve only just had the meeting today, we need to see a lot more detail, there's clearly a lot more discussion to be had, they'll be subsequent meetings. I really don't see a lot of merit to be honest with you, I'm just being very frank, in terms of assessing what might happen with trade with Japan, and what might happen with trade with Korea, if an agreement is struck in any particular way. Let's just see what happens with the passage of time.
TICKY FULLERTON: But presumably as this deal... As this meeting was going to happen, trade departments in countries like Australia would've been impressing upon the importance of making sure that we've got free trade in the region maintained at all costs.
STEVEN CIOBO: We have been a consistent and strong advocate in relation to free and liberalized trade and investment. We are a nation that is dependent upon trade. It's adding in the last set of accounts, about a third of Australia's GDP growth was attributable to trade so, that's a very positive story. I, of course, have been pursuing the most ambitious trade agenda in Australia's history. We've got trade negotiations either underway or shortly to commence with basically, all major continents with the exceptions of Antarctica and Africa. We're pursuing deals with North America, South America, and have done deals through the TPP-11, with Canada and Mexico for example, we've got the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, we've got the European Union, the UK, Indonesia, Hong Kong. There's a lot going on.
TICKY FULLERTON: Right. Well I'll come to one or two of them. But looking at the G7 meeting of course in Canada there, was it not a profoundly depressing moment for anybody who believes in free trade?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well I certainly encourage the United States, and the other members of the G7 to resolve their differences as soon as possible. There's always going to be some brinkmanship and horse-trading around discussions from time to time. Clearly President Trump has said repeatedly, that he doesn't believe that the United States is getting a fair deal on trade. He's President of the US, that's his prerogative, and he's going to pursue a course of action that he believes is going to deliver the best outcome for the American people on trade. From Australia's perspective, we have an FTA with the United States, we have no tariffs, no quotas in terms of our dealings with the US for products coming in to Australia. And of course I was pleased together with the Prime Minister, and the Foreign Minister, that we secured an exemption for Australia from the steel and aluminum tariffs and quotas into the United States as well. So that's a good example of reciprocity in terms of our trade and investment relationship.
TICKY FULLERTON: I was going to say, Canada has an FTA with the United States as well, that didn't seem to stop Donald Trump changing his mind. What makes you think that Australia having got this exempted status has got it for any more than, you know, five minutes?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we have the exemption, that's the agreement that's been struck between the Prime Minister and the President. It also puts Australia in a different category to Canada and Mexico as you yourself stated. I also note though, Ticky that President Trump has on a number of occasions now, railed against Canada's very significant tariffs on dairy imports into Canada. And as I said, Australia doesn't have those sorts of tariff barriers in our relationship with the United States. So, in many respects, what we have is a reciprocal trade relationship, no tariffs, no quotas. And that works best for both countries. I mean there are some isolated examples of quotas etc in terms of our bilateral, but it tends to be in terms of numbers quite small and quite particular, in terms of where those apply.
TICKY FULLERTON: So there's no risk that a shift in dynamics as a result of for example, the meeting today, the agreement today in Singapore, could have impacts on countries and indeed lead to the US putting pressure on us, on trade. You can't see those sort of scenarios playing out?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well it's a constantly moving feast when it comes to global trade. We are seeing more developments in trade than we have seen for quite some time, so a big part of my role is, of course, to remain abreast of developments and change as they take place. But Australia is at the forefront in terms of our advocacy about the benefits of liberalized trade and investment. And as I said, I'm pursuing the most ambitious trade agenda in Australia's history. There is a reason why I'm bringing so many different countries to the table and having discussions and negotiations with them. It's all about making sure we can diversify as much as possible, all of our trade and investment interests, because diversification generally means less risk, it's a risk mitigant, it also means that we're in a stronger position to capitalize on opportunities as and when they present themselves.
TICKY FULLERTON: Well despite your efforts to try and spread risk, obviously we are very dependent on China. You've talked a lot, I know about the tensions with China at the moment, China and Australia. Your shadow Jason Clare has been on Sky News talking about wine in particular wine and beef, but saying it was now taking up to two months for Australian products to leave China's docks and reach restaurants and stores. And that's new, it didn't use to be like that. He said Australian wine used to go through in two weeks. Surely something is happening here at the moment.
STEVEN CIOBO: You know what, only the Australian Labor Party would look at a trade that's gone from $211 million worth of exports a year, to over a billion dollars worth of exports a year and complain about it. That's what the Australian Labor Party does. They just whinge, and they're negative, and they complain. So let's deal with facts. As I said we've gone from $211 million worth of exports, Ticky, to now more than a billion dollars worth of exports a year. Now there have been some issues that were raised with me. TWE is one of them, and guess what, I've raised them with my Chinese counterparts. And we basically resolved those issues, so that they now have product that's moving again, and isn't stranded, and you know what, China has the right under the FTA to seek the veracity etc of the paperwork. They've exercised that on this occasion and we're seeing, now, the resumption of normal exports and so that's been the case so far.
TICKY FULLERTON: Well, you make the good point about wine exports for example, expanding to China, but I would have thought that if there are concerns about the way China can slow things down and beef’s another area, at a time when other competitors, global competitors are also getting access to China. This would actually be more serious not less serious that we've now got a bigger and bigger industry that's dependent upon this. I mean is for example, Australia Week in China on track, is it going to go ahead?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well we'll assess that in due course, I'm leading a very large delegation of Australian businesses to the CIIE, the China International Import Expo, which is part of President Xi's vision about continuing to open up China for trade and for investment. The CIIE is his vision, and I will make sure Australia's there with a strong presence, and we’ll be putting our best foot forward. But you know what Ticky, the fact remains that we have seen a massive expansion in Australia's trade and investment with China, especially since we put in place the China Australia Free Trade Agreement. And let's never forget, that it was the Australian Labor Party, who effectively condoned one of the most disgraceful anti-China campaigns that the trade union movement has ever run in this country. They spent tens of millions of dollars, effectively sledging China and Chinese workers on TV stations and radio stations across the country. So you know what, I'm not going to be lectured by the Australian Labor Party, when they actually almost derailed the entire process, and now he wants to chip in two cents worth on wine.
TICKY FULLERTON: Business I think is growing, I mean there is commentary around that there are more and more businesses now who are just a little bit concerned about whether enough is being done. Perhaps in the background, in the area of nuance, rather than getting our Prime Minister to go up to China or something like that. That enough is being done in the background to smooth things over so that business can continue on its merry way with China exports and investment.
STEVEN CIOBO: Well Ticky you're asking me to catch smoke frankly. You're asking me to catch smoke. Let's deal with facts. And here are the facts. Trade has grown substantially. Investment has grown substantially. I just concluded my 13th official visit to China, over the past couple of years. I'm going to China again in November for their CIIE, their China International Import Expo. Where there have been isolated examples of irritants in relation to our trade relationship, I've raised that with China, and those irritants have been resolved. So, pretty much on every measure, when you actually look at the facts, the story is a positive one. And I'm going to put that up against anecdotal reports, and as I said, what you're effectively inviting me to do which is to catch smoke, happy to go up against that all day long, every day, and just report back to you the facts of the trade as they currently are.
TICKY FULLERTON: Fair enough. Can I just, before I leave you, can I ask you just about Europe and Brexit. Obviously very important, the EU withdrawal bill going through, well Theresa May would like it to go through tonight no doubt our time. How do you see the British FTA progressing and indeed, we've got Cecilia Malmström, the EU trade commissioner coming over next week. Do you see them as two very different negotiations or are they neck and neck? Do you think one's going to come through ahead?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well no they're two entirely different negotiations, and they'll operate in parallel. Let's also be clear that the discussions and negotiations with the EU are far more mature and advanced, than they are with the UK. In fact, we're about to commence negotiations with the EU, we are not yet commencing negotiations with the UK and in fact won't do so until after April next year.
TICKY FULLERTON: Yes, you're not allowed to.
STEVEN CIOBO: Correct, so our discussions with the EU have been very positive, we've invested a lot of time and effort into now the commencement of these negotiations after the conclusion of the feasibility study that we did. EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström, she and I have an excellent working relationship. She's here next week, and I'm looking forward to kicking off what should be very good negotiations, and I hope a high quality, comprehensive FTA in due course.
TICKY FULLERTON: That's great. I hope I'll be able to catch up with her as well, but Trade Minister, thank you very much for your time, appreciate it.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak with you. Thanks Ticky.
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