Jackson Williams: Thank you so much for your time. You’re in New Zealand, you're in Auckland, you’re at the Australian New Zealand Leadership Forum. Where do you believe there are opportunities to improve trade ties between the two countries?
Simon Birmingham: This is the 15th anniversary of the Single Economic Market, and Australia and New Zealand have such deep, rich, long trade ties. And what we've seen though today is in our discussions, that we can improve and enhance them. Yes, we've eliminated tariffs and quotas, we have very free flow of trade of goods and service and investment across the Tasman. But there are still areas of cooperation, such as in terms of cooperation on e-invoicing for instance. Cooperation in terms of development of digital identity, cooperation in terms of mutual recognition around business numbers in our countries. These are all very practical things, but in emerging areas of technology as well that we can make sure our businesses in the future, they can have maximum connectivity, maximum productivity, and from that, maximum profitability as they cooperate, not just across the Tasman, but use our countries as a base to project out to the world.
Jackson Williams: Quite recently you've been involved in the latest round as negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. The deadline to the conclusions- the conclusion of negotiations is drawing near. There is a hope that there'll be- that process will wrap up by the end of the year. Are you confident that that can happen?
Simon Birmingham: I am very hopeful that we will see concluding negotiations amongst all 16 RCEP countries by the end of the year. Be an immense achievement if we can, but we can’t understate the challenge and difficulty of doing so because if you look at RCEP and, well, brings together the 10 ASEAN nations, plus China, plus India, Japan and Korea, Australia and New Zealand. So it's a massive trading block; close to half the world's population. Around one third of global GDP. And clearly, look, complexity across those 16 countries. So there is still a lot to negotiate to resolve between the parties, but I'm hopeful that we can meet that deadline and demonstrate to the world that our region continues to open up in terms of trade, investment flows, and that of course is what has made the Asian region such an economic powerhouse in recent decades, and can continue to deliver economic gains in the future.
Jackson Williams: Why should China be involved in RCEP given that it doesn't always adhere to the rule of law, and that obviously presents obvious challenges?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we've seen in terms of the Australia China Free Trade Agreement — ChAFTA — that China has delivered on many- the vast majority of commitments that are made ChAFTA, and that we continue to work through other processes under that agreement. And in lowering the trade barriers that ChAFTA had commitments to, Australian business is benefiting from better access into China. And we've seen growth in a number of different categories. So there are gains to be made out of these types of trade deals, and real gains with partners who do demonstrate that they deliver in terms of their commitments, as are with experiences proven.
Jackson Williams: G20 finance leaders have released a statement issuing a warning over the trade war between the United States and China, calling on the countries to end the trade dispute warning of collateral damage. Does the trade war have the potential to put the multilateral trading system at risk of collapse?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think there are a couple of pressure points that exist there, and we've long acknowledged that there are some genuine underpinnings to trade tensions that exist in terms of the US concerns about forced technology transfer and the like. But we haven't believed that unilateral tariff hikes are the way to go about resolving that. We've seen from the IMF, the OECD and other forecasters, that they are anticipating a reduction in the growth of global trade volumes, and that's flowed through to a reduction in global economic growth. So it's hurting everybody, and indeed the message from G20 finance ministers is consistent with the position Australia has long adopted, which is very clear that there ought to be a dialogue, there ought to be de-escalation of tariff measures and the matters that really have brought this trade war into this territory that is now hurting economies right across the globe.
Jackson Williams: Just one final note, because we are short on time. Does the government really believe that Labor is racist for pursuing Gladys Liu in the way it has?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I think the pursuit that we've seen is grubby, it is tactic, that many instances has been misplaced, and frankly- and we see in the Labor Party, they apply very much double standards in many of these debates. And what we’ve had to …
Jackson Williams: What are the double standards? Sam Dastyari...
Simon Birmingham: No, no. Well I think that is just in Labor, out there in a very different way, chasing after donations. We’ve seen that the New South Wales and ICAC, the type of behavior that is unimaginable in so many contexts here. Gladys Liu has given a statement in parliament, she’s addressed the issues that have been raised, and she’s a hardworking local MP elected by the people.
Jackson Williams: Do you go as far to say that Labor has been racist with its pursuit of Gladys Liu over these concerns raised about potential foreign interference?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I've been out of the country the last couple of days and I haven't seen all of the comments that have been made. But I think it's absolutely rubbish.
Jackson Williams: So, Gladys Liu’s role as a Liberal MP is safe?
Simon Birmingham: Gladys Liu is elected by the people of Chisholm to serve as a Liberal MP, and I’m sure that’s what she’ll continue to do.
Jackson Williams: Great, Minister. Thank you for your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you.
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