ABC, NewsRadio

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia Week in China (AWIC), Arrium, Labor’s carbon tax policy, South China Sea.
14 April 2016

MARIUS BENSON: Steve Ciobo, good morning.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good morning, Marius.

MARIUS BENSON: Sounds like a pretty exciting time. Can I ask you this about these trade agreements that you're looking for now, the gradient in Australian trade with China has been very near vertical over the last half decade anyway, can you do much better?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, there's always scope to do more and that's precisely what the Coalition did through the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. The fact is Australia now has preferential market access into the biggest market in the world, some 1.3 billion people. Frankly, it's access that our competitor nations would love to have, so yes, in answer to your question, there is always more that can be done. We're pressing ahead with doing it.

MARIUS BENSON: Can I offer you a different perspective on that, there may well be people listening now in Whyalla now saying, 'great, love the free trade, shame it's cost us our jobs because of all this cheap Chinese steel'.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, first of all, it hasn't cost them their jobs. The fact is that yes, Arrium is clearly under some significant pressure and we'll see what comes to pass there. But let's also be clear, there's 43,000 people in Australia who are in the iron ore industry, 43,000. There's another tens of thousands that are in the coking coal industry. Both of these industries are exporting to a number of countries but in the main to China and China is using that iron ore and that coking coal to produce steel. I think it's important to recognise that yes, there will be parts of the economy that are under pressure. There's clearly a global oversupply, it's not just about China, there's a global oversupply of steel and that's having an impact. The most important thing a government can do is make our company as competitive as possible. We tried to help steel, in fact, we will continue to do so by reducing the carbon tax and I note that Bill Shorten and the Labor Party want to reintroduce the carbon tax if they win the next election, which will make those workers in Whyalla under even more pressure because their industry will become less competitive again.

MARIUS BENSON: Steve Ciobo, can I go to the task ahead of you as the Trade Minister in China. We've obviously got the Prime Minister there meeting leaders of China, you would meet ministerial equivalents; you don't come out of ministerial meetings with contracts necessarily. What's a good result when you meet your counterpart in China? Do you go in there with specific expectations or is it just, at least he knows who I am if I call up?

STEVEN CIOBO: No, there is a specific agenda that we pursue and that's an agenda to do a couple things. The first is to reinforce the value that we place on the relationship with China. Obviously it's a very big trading nation, in fact it's our largest, but it's also the largest trading nation for many other competitor countries. We want to make sure that China understands that we value the relationship and indeed, they want to do the same thing back to Australia. The other opportunity is to raise points of friction, to focus on areas where we're working well together but also to discuss in a mature and methodical way issues that need to be resolved and worked through and I've been really pleased to have some of those conversations over the past week.

MARIUS BENSON: When you speak of points of friction, is it the general rule of this visit that you don't mention the South China Sea and China's building of artificial islands with military installations in that region?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well it's not a rule, but I am the Trade and Investment Minister and I've been meeting with my counterpart, so there's not a huge amount of scope for the two of us to chat about issues like the South China Sea, but what we do discuss are issues that are relevant to the two of us and that's got to do with our trade and investment relationship.

MARIUS BENSON: Steve Ciobo, do you expect a specific direct benefit from this visit or is it just maintaining a process which has been immensely successful in terms of Australian exports for many years?

STEVEN CIOBO: We know in 2014 when we last had Australia Week in China that the delegates on that trip attributed $1 billion of additional export sales to participating in Australia Week in China. We know that there was around $3 billion of investment that was attributed back to Australia Week in China, so I would hope that off the back of this Australia Week in China, we'll see those sort of numbers or hopefully even better in terms of additional trade and additional investment.

MARIUS BENSON: Steve Ciobo, thanks indeed for joining News Radio from Shanghai this morning.

STEVEN CIOBO: My pleasure, thank you.

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