Interview on Sky News Live, First Edition with Danica De Giorgio

Topics: US Election; Joe Biden’s Climate Change policy; TPP; Australia-China trade relations
09 November 2020

Danica De Giorgio: Joining me now live is Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham. Minister, good morning. Thank you for joining me. We now finally have a President Elect, Joe Biden. Scott Morrison and other world leaders have congratulated him. On the other hand, though, Donald Trump is still saying that there has been electoral fraud and that he will take it through the court system and that he should have won. Should Australia have waited?

Simon Birmingham: Well Australia's done what most other nations have done and that is acknowledge the result that has been declared widely across the United States and acknowledge the result has been, of course, a claiming and victory by President Elect Biden. Now, we respect fully, the democratic institutions, the legal institutions of the United States and we are confident that those institutions will ensure a transition of power, if that is the will of the American people, as appears to be the case, and that in that, we see one of the world's great democracies continue with a new chapter in Australian-American relations and our great alliance under President Elect Biden, and we congratulate him and his Vice Presidential candidate, Kamala Harris.

Danica De Giorgio: Speaking of the alliance, climate change is one of the issues that President Elect Joe Biden wants to tackle immediately. Will the Government hold the line on net zero emissions target by 2050 or does a new Biden administration mean that you will at least have to wait to considerate it as an option or tweak the current target?

Simon Birmingham: Australia remains firmly committed to the Paris Agreement. The United States has withdrawn from that agree under President Trump but we will welcome indeed the US back to the table in terms of their commitment to the Paris Agreement. Australia's emissions reductions have exceeded the OECD average since 2005. They've exceeded those in the United States as well. And what we want to see is that the world works towards implementing the type of technologies that can drive emissions even lower and help us all to achieve that target of net zero. Now, importantly, Joe Biden has committed the US to a path of technological investment and given the United States is Australia's number one investment partner, then there's huge opportunities there for us to cooperate on our technology roadmap and indeed, the incoming President's agenda when it comes to climate change reduction as well.

Danica De Giorgio: But in terms of a net zero emissions target by 2050, Australia is now virtually alone in its stance on it. Is our refusal to commit to net zero now simply untenable on the world stage?

Simon Birmingham: What our Prime Minister's made clear is that he wants to see any targets as being ones that we have full confidence in their achievability and how we will get there and knowledge about the pathway to being able to achieve those sorts of targets. And that is crucial and it is where the type of investment in technology and the type of changes that need to occur are crucial and hence, the fact that we so warmly welcome the opportunity to collaborate with a Biden administration around areas of technology investment when it comes to emissions reduction. That's what's going to get not just us or the United States, but ultimately, the rest of the world, including developing countries where the largest amount of growth in emissions projection is forecast to occur over the next few years. If we are to change that trajectory of growth in emissions in those developing countries to one that flattens and ultimately reduces, we will need technologies that allow them to have affordable, accessible energy and that's where technology's going to play a huge role.

Danica De Giorgio: Alright. Minister, just on trade, will Australia be putting pressure on the Biden administration to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Simon Birmingham: We've kept the door wide open for the TPP. Former prime minister Turnbull worked so closely with former Japanese prime minister Abe to ensure that when the Trump administration withdrew United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it still went ahead and the TPP came into force with that strong leadership from Australia. What is crucial now is that we continue to implement that and we keep the door open. It's up to the United States administration; we're not about to pressure anybody. But the TPP is a good trade agreement, particularly a great trade agreement for engagement in the Indo Pacific, where we hope to see the United States continue its strong engagement and pursue potentially economic and trade opportunities like the TPP.

Danica De Giorgio: Has there at all been any update on contact with your Chinese counterpart, in regards to Australian exports? And if not, do you expect to ever get a response?

Simon Birmingham: Well, no. There's not been Ministerial dialogue at that level with China; that's well known and that hasn't changed over the course of the last few days, since I was last asked that question. What we have seen over the last few days is that some Australians good continue to move through normal processes into the Chinese market and we welcome that. The types of rumors that suggested outright bans in a broad range of categories are not appearing to be the case at present. But, there are problems, and there are deeply troubling and concerning aspects, to some elements of that trade relationship at present, and so we are continuing to closely monitor that and trying to work at all diplomatic and Government to Government levels that we can to secure a better understanding and resolution of some of those concerns for sectors, such as our live seafood trade and the lobster category.

Danica De Giorgio: Are you worried that the ongoing export issues will put a number of jobs at risk if the goods continue to be blocked from export?

Simon Birmingham: It is always a worry. Under our Government we've seen huge growth in terms of the number of Australian businesses who export; huge growth in terms of employment associated with trade; and, what we've managed to secure there is more than 30 consecutive months in a row in which Australia has exported more than we import as a nation. So, we've managed to turn Australian exports into a huge driver of our economy. We've done that by opening doors to trade to a number of countries, and importantly not only China. Our trade agreements with Japan and Korea have underpinned strong growth in trade with those markets. The Trans-Pacific partnership, as you mentioned before, has opened up new opportunities with Vietnam, with Canada, with Mexico, amongst other nations. Our new agreement with Indonesia came into force just a couple of months ago. So, these all provide opportunities for Australian businesses to continue to grow and to underpin and support those jobs. But, it's always a concern when some of those jobs may be threatened by adverse regulatory or other decisions in other countries, and that's why we work with those regulators and authorities to try and understand and overcome them wherever we can.

Danica De Giorgio: Just finally, the West Australian Premier, Mark McGowan, says that the Commonwealth must put in effort to repair the relationship from China. I know that, particularly, the issues surrounding lobsters will effect that state in particular. Are you doing enough? Is Australia doing enough?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Australia continues to be very clear that we want and would welcome dialogue and Ministerial dialogue, between Australia and China; that we absolutely respect China's place in the region; and, we want to see it strong and prosperous China - one that works across the region where we all are respectful of each other's sovereignty. But, ours is indeed one where we have celebrated the mutual benefits of trade between Australia and China over many decades, and our determination is to continue that calm, respectful tone of engagement where, yes, we have to deal occasionally with difficult issues - we don't and haven't always agreed - but, we must absolutely focus on the areas of mutual benefit. And that's what Australia continues to do, and we would urge China to do likewise.

Danica De Giorgio: Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, thank you for joining me this morning.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, my pleasure.

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