BEN FORDHAM: The man in charge of navigating all of this, Steve Ciobo, the Trade Minister. He's on the line. Steve Ciobo, good afternoon.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good afternoon, Ben, great to be with you.
BEN FORDHAM: Is that an unfair characterization of little old Australia being stuck in the middle of China and America?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, I think there's a number of countries who are facing economic headwinds at the moment. And when I say economic headwinds, I mean trade headwinds. But you know what? Australia is proving incredibly resilient, and basically, Ben, to be blunt, it's because we've got a clear plan about how to chart these choppy waters. Now we're improving our business competitiveness, we're focused on growing exports, we've seen strong growth, really strong growth in employment in Australia, big surges in terms of the amount of exports we're making as a country, so that all represents really good news.
BEN FORDHAM: What about the EU? We're still in negotiations there?
STEVEN CIOBO: We've actually only just started, so I've been working on this for some time, and I'm pleased to say we, as of about a month ago, commenced negotiations with the European Union for an FTA. These kinds of developments that we've seen overnight between the European Union and the USA just reinforce precisely why we've got to make sure that we keep Australia at the front of the pack, Ben. And that's what I've been trying to do. That's what the Prime Minister does, because we need to be at the front of the pack so we don't have other competitor countries get in front of us.
BEN FORDHAM: There's real concern about a flood of foreign workers. Nearly three million asylum applications have been submitted to member countries of the EU in the past three years, so how many of those refugees will Australia accept under our deal, our free trade agreement?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, mate, this, well, none under the FTA. The FTA has nothing to do with-
BEN FORDHAM: Well, with the deal between the EU and Australia?
STEVEN CIOBO: Yeah, well, no. So, that has no bearing on us taking in refugees or anything like that. It doesn't deal with that at all, and as you know, Ben, as a Government we've been absolutely rock solid in making sure that we get control of our borders again, so we've done that very successfully, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton. Now we've got complete and total control once again over our migration program, including people claiming to be refugee status. So while we've got that under control, we can, and blokes like me can go and focus on opening up export opportunities for Australian exporters.
BEN FORDHAM: What does it mean for us, the fact that Donald Trump has done a deal with the EU? It doesn't have a big impact on us?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, they haven't done a deal yet. What they've agreed to is to have negotiations and discussions with a view to doing a deal. So, basically, that's the same as what I'm doing with the European Union. But bear in mind, mate, that what we did, we've already put in place FTAs with China, Japan, Korea. We've comprehensively updated the deal with Singapore, and right now, under negotiation, we're having discussions with the European Union, with Indonesia, with Hong Kong, with ASEAN countries, with countries in Latin America. This is all about making sure that Australian exporters can be as competitive as possible, selling into those markets. And that's the success we're having. We're seeing big increases in exports from Australia, and that is driving jobs here in Australia.
BEN FORDHAM: When Donald Trump was in Great Britain recently, he kind of sounded the alarm on the Brexit and said, "Look, unless you do this properly, as the people voted for, then we're not going to have a trade agreement with you until that's sorted out." Where is Australia and the UK?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we're the first country that the UK agreed to set up a working group with, with a view to having a trade agreement with them once they exit the EU. Now, obviously, things are, let's call it pretty politically fluid over there, so we're watching closely to see what's happening in the UK, but when they’re in a position to do a deal with us. We're one of the very first countries that they're going to do a deal with, so you know-
BEN FORDHAM: So the Brexit might be beneficial to us, as opposed to being a problem? We have a deal with Britain. We've got another deal with the EU.
STEVEN CIOBO: Precisely, and that's exactly what we've been planning on doing.
BEN FORDHAM: Just on China, we reported a little while ago about Australian wine exports being held up on the Chinese border, a bit of a go-slow. Other countries were moving through a lot faster. Aussie wine was being held up. They were talking about billions of dollars' worth. Any news on that?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Ben, you'd recall at the time, when it was first brought to my attention, I spoke with my Chinese counterparts, and we got to the bottom of that and made sure that the wine started flowing again. You know, the great news, Ben, is if you look at the actual exports of Australian wine to China, it has been absolutely booming. Even in the last 12 months, notwithstanding these delays that you've been talking about, even in the last 12 months, it's grown by something like 17 per cent again. So the fact is, Ben, all this Australian wine that's being exported, this is powering economic growth here in Australia, and it's powering jobs in Australia. Now, people in Western Sydney might not see it, but I'll tell you what, mate, they see it in the Hunter Valley, they see it in the Barossa, they see it in the Margaret River. All these great wine-producing areas are seeing extra jobs, because they're now able to export so much wine.
BEN FORDHAM: How are you feeling about Super Saturday?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, you know what, it's been a long time since the Government has won a seat off the Opposition-
BEN FORDHAM: Oh, you're talking it down, are you?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'm just saying-
BEN FORDHAM: Talking down expectations.
STEVEN CIOBO: I'm not, I'm actually just saying literal truth, which is, it's been nearly 100 years since a Government won a seat off the Opposition. Now, having said all of that, as you know, we are putting our best foot forward. We've got great candidates, but most importantly, look, people just have to make a choice. Do they want a Government with a strong plan for our economic future, that's paying down debt, that's got our budget and our borders back under control? Or do they want Bill Shorten's alternative?
BEN FORDHAM: We'll see how it all pans out on Saturday. You've got a very busy brief on your hands at the moment, so thank you for sparing some time to talk to us, Steve.
STEVEN CIOBO: Glad to speak to you, mate. Any time.
BEN FORDHAM: Steve Ciobo, the Trade Minister, joining us on the line.
- Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555