ABC NewsRadio, interview with Mark Tamhane

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: TPP, Australia United States Business Week, South China Sea.
24 February 2016

MARK TAMHANE: Steve Ciobo, it took years to negotiate, but there's some concern the US Congress may not be willing to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. You've been in Washington talking to Administration and Congressional officials. What's your take out from that?

STEVEN CIOBO: It's clear that the Obama Administration is very focused on trying to secure the passage of the TPP, that is the ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Obviously, there are different points of view and there's domestic policy considerations that congressman and women are looking at. Australia is stern with the belief that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is in Australia's national interest. We believe it's in America's national interest. We are certainly hopeful to see ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership both in Australia and in the United States.

MARK TAMHANE: When might that deal get to Congress though? Before or after the US Presidential election?

STEVEN CIOBO: I'm not an expert on domestic US politics. I've had a number of different people put forward a number of different scenarios to me. There is no one pathway to ratification in the Congress. It might happen before the election. It might happen after the election. We, of course, will watch. I wanted to make sure, though, that I was up to speed in terms of the different concerns the various parties in the United States have. What's clear though is that if we're going to drive jobs and growth in Australia, if we're going to continue to have the Australian economy growing strongly, then we need to make sure that we're engaging in trade and investment and the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a great way to do that.

MARK TAMHANE: It's a pretty prickly partisan atmosphere in Washington at the moment. Are trade deals and access issues that might benefit Australia not really on the radar at the moment?

STEVEN CIOBO: I think Americans view Australia very favourably. Andrew Robb has done a lot of very good work as Australia's Trade and Investment Minister, in terms of boosting Australia's role and profile. That's work that I want to continue on, and indeed that's the very reason why we're here at this inaugural Australia United States Business Week. It's to drive investment interest in Australia and to drive opportunity for Australian exporters. That's what's going to make sure that the Australian economy goes from strength to strength. It keeps us focused on jobs and growth. Ultimately what Americans choose to do is, of course, lay entirely within their own hands though

MARK TAMHANE: Yesterday, we had the commander of the US 7th Fleet call on Australia to carry out Naval patrols in the South China Sea. A move that would obviously anger China. Has that issue been brought up at all during your discussions in Washington?

STEVEN CIOBO: People have not raised that with me in the trade and investment discussions that I've been having. Suffice to say, with respect to the South China Sea, Australia has for a long time pursued our freedom of navigation and freedom of over flight in accordance with the international law of the sea and various conventions that apply.

MARK TAMHANE: Did you get the impression, though, that the US is looking to Australia as a key ally in it's move in the Pacific to counter the rise of China? Even if it isn't in the military sense, maybe even if it's in the trade sense.

STEVEN CIOBO: I think that's the wrong characterisation. This isn't Australia and the United States against China. Australia enjoys a very strong relationship with both China and with the United States. Indeed, Australia's two-way trade relationship with China, worth $160 billion, is the strongest two-way trade relationship that we have. We have a great relationship with China. We've got a very good relationship with the United States. Matters like the South China Sea is an issue that arises from time to time, but Australia simply urges all parties involved in discussions around the South China Sea to exercise common sense and to ensure that the international laws that apply and the international conventions that apply continue to prevail.

MARK TAMHANE: I couldn't help but notice that when you did an interview with the business channel CNBC yesterday, the first question was about BHP Billiton's jaw dropping loss, despite your efforts to change the paradigm. Is the perception in the United States still very much that there really isn't much more to Australian business than digging up resources and making the odd kooky film?

STEVEN CIOBO: I think that there's obviously a heavy focus on the resources and energy sector because Australia has a strong history and track record in that regard. It's also fair to say, though, that there's a clear understanding that there's a lot more to Australia than just resources and energy, and indeed that's a key part of my focus as Trade and Investment Minister. It's part of the reason why I'm in New York right now, and part of the reason why I was in San Francisco at the end of last week, to talk about the great innovative work that Australia is doing. The Prime Minister has a strong focus on the ideas boom in Australia. That's going to translate very well in terms of the digital economy and opportunities to grow some of those services based exports and the development of new intellectual property. There's a strong interest in regard and investment flowing from the United States into those sectors.

MARK TAMHANE: Steve Ciobo, thank you.

STEVEN CIOBO: Thank you, pleasure.

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