Press conference with New Zealand Trade Minister

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-New Zealand CER; CPTPP; Port of Darwin; US Indo-Pacific framework.

Dan Tehan: Thank you for joining us today. It's wonderful to have my very good friend Damien O'Connor here in Australia, New Zealand's Trade Minister. This is the first in-person trade ministers' meeting I've done on Australian soil as Australia's Trade Minister. So, Damien, it's wonderful that you are that first and it's wonderful that you're also the first trade minister to visit since the pandemic started, and, I think, what that really symbolises more than anything else is the closeness of the relationship and the warmth of the relationship.

We had a really important meeting today and discussed a range of issues: multilateral, regional and bilateral. And when it comes to the bilateral relationship there is without question no doubt that we have the best free trade agreement between nations. The Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relationship (CER) it is the best free trade agreement. There is not one which enables the free movement of people, of services, of goods and investment like our CER does — and it's going to reach its 40th anniversary in 2023.

So, one of the things that we've discussed and agreed to is that I will seek to travel to New Zealand in the first quarter of next year, and the major agenda item will be how we can continue to upgrade and modernise CER so it remains that gold standard bilateral free trade agreement. We're going to look at ensuring that in areas when it comes to digital trade, when it comes to the green economy, when it comes to supply chain issues that the Closer Economic Relationship is up to date in all those areas and any other areas that we think it needs to be upgraded. We want to make sure that it maintains that standard as the best free trade agreement anywhere in the world.

So, Damien, I thank you for travelling to Australia. It's great to see you. I really appreciate the way that we've been able to work together since I've become Australia's Trade Minister, and I couldn't have asked for anyone better to be the first face-to-face visitor for a trade ministers' dialogue than you. So welcome.

Damien O'Connor: Thank you very much, Dan. It is, indeed, a pleasure to be here. This is our – Australia is our oldest friend, our oldest ally, our best trade dealer, our best trade partner. And it's nice to come along and just say thank you for that ongoing valuable relationship that, as you say, is almost 40 years old – or young as it will be, as it will move forward.

Can I say, we've connected via Zoom around the world on a number of occasions, but actually this is home, and both sides of the Tasman to us, of course, are crucial, and the Australasian and Trans-Tasman relationship is invaluable. It is very hard to find a topic to debate, actually. And I'd just like to acknowledge Dan's passion for the role and I hope that we can do justice as trade ministers to what is an enduring relationship between two valuable partners, and by example we can go out to the rest of the world and show that trade can be the solution to many, many of our challenges as we move forward. So, it's a pleasure to be here.

Dan Tehan: Thanks, Damien. Happy to go to questions.

Journalist: Ministers, did you discuss China's bid to join the CPTPP, and do you think it's likely that China would be able to meet the so-called gold standard requirement for membership?

Dan Tehan: So, we did discuss accession to CPTPP and we've agreed and we've always been very much on the same page in this regard – that there's a couple of very important things that need to be considered as part of any country seeking to accede to CPTPP. The first thing is that the United Kingdom is the first party that is seeking to accede and, very much, their accession will set the guardrails, or the guiderails, if you like, for other countries to accede.

We also agree that it's ultimately a consensus-based decision amongst all members when it comes to countries acceding and also that countries have to be able to show that they can meet those gold standards that you've referred to. We think that is incredibly important. CPTPP was hard fought. I think it's the best regional trade agreement in the world, and we want to make sure that any country that wants to accede to it will uphold those gold standards.

Damien O'Connor: As Dan said, CPTPP is an invaluable agreement. It was hard won and all the members of that agreement want to maintain the high standards. That's really important. It's always been an open-door policy to those that want to meet those standards and so we're not going to pre-judge the ability of those applicants to meet the standards, but we are determined that that is the requirement.

Journalist: And is it a given that Australia would only support China's bid if it ends its campaign of economic coercion against Australia?

Dan Tehan: Look, we've made it very clear that we think that if any country is to accede to CPTPP they have to demonstrate, quite clearly, that they are adhering in spirit and the law to their current agreements, trade agreements, that they have in place. So, any country that was practicing economic coercion wouldn't be adhering in spirit and in law to their current agreements and, therefore, it would be hard to see how they could accede to CPTPP. They'd also have to clearly demonstrate that they are adhering to, or could adhere to, those gold standards.

And also we are very much of the mind – and this is just something which is very practical because this is what we've had to do when it comes to the UK accession – you have to be able to have ministerial dialogue as part of any accession process. I've met on a regular basis – I would say probably every fortnight if not even every week in some instances – with my UK counterparts as part of their – our FTA with them, which will form the market goods accession part of the UK accession to CPTPP. So, those are the things that, for us, are very practical that we think we would need for any country seeking to accede to CPTPP.

Journalist: China's Acting Ambassador has this morning said that Australia would damage its reputation if it strips Landbridge of its Darwin port lease. Is this a reasonable argument?

Dan Tehan: When it comes to the Port of Darwin, this was a decision which was taken by the Northern Territory Government in 2015. Australia since then has put in new laws. We've passed legislation which, ultimately, would mean that the Federal Government would have involvement and would do investment screening when it comes to future decisions of this type. And the Prime Minister has made very clear, obviously, on any issue or any matter if we got advice that it went against the national interests it's something that we would look at. But, obviously, this decision was made in 2015 and was a decision of the Northern Territory Government and we will, obviously, have looked at having this reviewed. That review is being undertaken. We'll wait and see what advice is given to the Government following that review.

Journalist: And will when the Government announce the results of that review?

Dan Tehan: Well, ultimately, that will depend on the timeframe of the review and when that review comes to Government. That's something that's currently being undertaken. I haven't heard or seen when that will be finalised but, obviously, once it is that's something that will be considered by Government.

Journalist: Do you think it will be this year?

Dan Tehan: Look, ultimately, that will depend on the review itself. Obviously, we want all these types of reviews have to be very thorough in process, and when they're concluded I'm sure it will be provided to Government for a decision.

Journalist: And when you both met with Secretary Raimondo in Singapore did she give any further details on how the Biden administration‘s Indo-Pacific economic framework would actually function?

Dan Tehan: Well, can I just say, we had an excellent meeting with Secretary Raimondo —and how wonderful it was to see her in the Indo-Pacific engaging with like-minded countries. I think the Indo-Pacific framework is a great initiative. I know it's something that both Australia and New Zealand are looking forward to participating in and helping to shape. So, it is in the interests of an open and resilient Indo-Pacific, one which enhances trade even further and investment flows even further. And we both enjoyed meeting with Secretary Raimondo and we look forward to helping to shape the US's Indo-Pacific framework going forward. And I'll ask Damien to make a couple of comments in that regard as well.

Damien O'Connor: Look, I think we're enthusiastic and welcome the US down to our part of the world. You know, the framework hasn't been set in concrete but we look forward to the ongoing discussions. Like-minded countries can identify those issues that go beyond, I guess, general discussion in APEC and to areas where we think we might need to move a little more quickly. So, this is an opportunity for us to move ahead in crucial areas of trade and re-engagement and building beyond Covid, you know, in a region with huge potential but, again, between primarily countries of like mind.

Journalist: And, ministers, do you think the US has an appetite for joining the CPTPP?

Dan Tehan: Look, I think in first instance their focus is very much on their Indo-Pacific framework. And I think that's a good and welcome focus to see them down in the Indo-Pacific engaging, working with like-minded countries, to shape their future economic engagement in the region is very welcome and I can understand why this very much is their focus.

There are a lot of areas, sort of areas of the new economy, that we can work in partnership with the US on, and the countries of the Indo-Pacific can work with the US on, whether it be digital, whether it be the green economy, whether it be supply chains. These are all issues which we can seek to explore and advance. So, I think, they're rightly focused on the idea of this framework and that's something that we're happy to really put a focus on.

Damien O'Connor: I think it's fair to say never say never, but the US has indicated on numerous occasions that it's not focused on CPTPP as a trade agreement they want to re-engage with. But there are other avenues, as I say, through the framework, that they want to, you know, work with us in an area of growth and trade and opportunity.

Journalist: And have either of you spoken to Taiwan about its bid to join the partnership?

Dan Tehan: Look, I've had discussions with Taiwan throughout this year. I haven't had one since they asked to accede to CPTPP. I'm sure I will have future discussions with the Taiwanese but at this stage I haven't had a discussion post their seeking accession to CPTPP.

Damien O'Connor: And no, we haven't either. And [indistinct] of course under application would mean that they would have to reach out and connect with all members of CPTPP and I'm not aware, you know, of their engagement with other members. I haven't spoken to them.

Journalist: Just a question for Minister Tehan, the ABC understands that DFAT is undergoing an internal reshuffle. What's the purpose of this, and when will it be finalised and announced?

Dan Tehan: Well, I'm sure that the new secretary, Secretary Campbell, wants to make sure that the Department can deliver for the Government into the future. So, she's looking at how it can best do that. Can I say, from my perspective, I was very pleased to welcome a new Associate Secretary for Trade, Tim Yeend, who has already begun. I think this is a major step in making sure that our trade policy is fit for purpose for the next decade and beyond. And I think Tim's appointment is an absolutely significant one for how trade fits in to our diplomacy and our economic statecraft going forward.

So, Kathryn is looking at all the ways that the Department can seek to continue to serve the Government, especially going forward in what is a new and challenging Indo-Pacific region and also dealing with the multiple global issues that we currently face.


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