ABC News Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Free Trade Agreements with the United Kingdom and the European Union; Joint Working Group; Foreign Investment.
07 September 2016

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Mr Ciobo's also travelling to Brussels looking to build support for a separate post Brexit free trade deal with the EU and the Minister joins us now from London. Steve Ciobo, good morning to you.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good morning, Michael.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Let's start in London. What are the prospects of Australia forging a free trade agreement with Britain after the Brexit vote?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the prospects are very positive Michael. I was pleased today to join with Secretary of State Liam Fox, the UK - my UK counterpart and the two of us issued a joint announcement that we would be forming a joint working group to scope out what a free trade agreement between Australia and the UK will look like post-Brexit. That post-Brexit is important because the UK, until they formally do exit the European Union, are not in a position to commence a formal negotiation. So it's important that we have a lot of preliminary discussions and a scoping study for that point in time in which the UK finally exits the EU.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: How important would a trading partnership be with the UK without the heft of it being attached to the EU?

STEVEN CIOBO: I think it's still very important. If you look at two-way terms of trade, the UK is our 7th largest trading partner. If you look at the total pool of investment from the UK into Australia, and in addition to that from Australia into the UK, it's worth around $850 billion. So there are a lot of strong ties between Australia and the UK and of course, Michael, there's strong historical bonds as well. We can build off that, we can make sure that Australia and the UK have an even brighter future together and that's what I'm wanting to capitalise on in Australia's national interest.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: What's your impression from meeting British politicians and policymakers there during your visit? Are they grasping for leads as to what to do, where to go after the Brexit vote?

STEVEN CIOBO: No, I wouldn't describe it that way. I think what the UK is really feeling is a new-found sense of energy, about being masters of their own destiny and certainly very keen to focus on what they can do to drive a pro-free trade agenda. Australia and the UK both want to be international beacons when it comes to the benefits of free trade. So what I've discovered in the conversations that I've had, is a strong political commitment, to making sure that we're able to boost national prosperity, both in Australia and in the UK. We know that a free trade agreement, one that has next to no or ideally no barriers to trade is a kind of situation that means that we've got more efficiency, less red tape and Aussie businesses that are better able to trade with a very substantial market like the UK.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Let's zip across the English Channel now. How confident are you of building support of an Australian trade agreement with the European Union?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well again, another important market for Australia. Discussions with the European Union are more mature than discussions that we've been having with the UK, by that I mean more advanced. We're still in a scoping stage with respect to the European Union but Michael I expect that that scoping stage will conclude by the end of this year. I hope then that we clear the first hurdle which is that having done the scoping study, we can look at what opportunities present themselves to formally commence free-trade agreement negotiations between the European Union and Australia. That's really important. It's a very big market for Australia. Some terrific potential gains in a range of different areas. I want to focus on agriculture, but also broader than that. I want it to be comprehensive, high quality, digital economy, services, all these types of things.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Speaking of foreign investment, one big form of foreign investment is ownership of Australia's agricultural land. You will be aware of this new survey out today by the Australian Tax Office that only – less than 14 per cent of Australian farmland, Minister, is owned by foreign interest and the biggest stake in that group was UK interest. Do you think that would surprise a lot of people?

STEVEN CIOBO: Yes. I beg your pardon, do I think what?

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Do you think the fact that there's only 14 per cent of Australian farmland foreign owned and also the biggest foreign stake is owned by a UK interest, not Chinese, would that surprise a lot of people?

STEVEN CIOBO: It doesn't surprise me but I guess because I've had the privilege of seeing a lot of these numbers and seeing [how] investment flows into Australia as investment minister. But I do think it reinforces, Michael, the need to put factual information before the Australian people. That's been a core focus for the Coalition. We want to have transparency around this. We don't want people to go off with only part of the information. Frankly, and I think it's unfortunate, there's been a lot of media discussion, I'm not pointing the finger of blame at any particular organisation, but a lot of media discussion which unduly places a lot of attention and focus on China. And the fact is that China is just not at the level where a lot of Australians would think it is, based upon what they're seeing portrayed in the media on a regular basis. Now, I really reinforce that we must have foreign investment into a country and the reason we've got to have it, Michael, is because that is what drives economic growth in Australia and that is important because that's what drives jobs for Australians. So we need to embrace investment into our country, we have for more than 100 years, and it is a vital ingredient to the continued economic growth of our country.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Steve Ciobo, the Trade Minister joining us from London. Thank you very much for your time, Minister.

STEVEN CIOBO: That's a pleasure, thank you.

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