ABC Radio National

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: FTAs, China Meat Ban, Banking Royal Commission.
31 October 2017

SABRALANE: Joining us now is the Federal TradeMinister, Steven Ciobo, from the Gold Coast. Minister, good morning and welcometo AM.

STEVEN CIOBO: Goodmorning, good to be with you.

SABRA LANE: Theban related to about a hundred millions dollars' worth in meat, has Australiagot to the bottom of what the labelling problem was?

STEVEN CIOBO: Wellessentially, the concern was that there are a number of processors where therewas mismatching of labelling. In other words, for example, labels that were onthe exterior of the container, the outside box, were different to the labelsthat were inside the box. But what this has also served to do is reinforce toindustry the importance of making sure that we comply with the import standardsof any country we're exporting to, in this case China, and they take foodsecurity very seriously. Australia, of course, must make sure we stand by ourquality assurance on the quality of our product, and that includes making surethat technical issues like labelling are done correctly.

SABRA LANE: Atthe time of the ban, other processors were actually quite nervous about whatChina would do next. How have you been able to assuage exporters' worries aboutdoing business in China?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well,look we wanted to move quickly. This trade to China is very significant. It'smore than $800 million worth of trade, and so one of the first things I did wastake the opportunity in bilateral meetings to raise our concerns with mycounterpart and his Vice Minister at a number of different trade forums overthe past three months. I also had the opportunity to raise it directly when Itravelled to China a month or so ago. It's been through that continuingadvocacy. But I also want to acknowledge, we've had really goodcooperation from Chinese authorities. They've been as keen as us to see thismatter resolved. We've been able to have our authorities and their authoritieswork alongside each other to basically bring this to the satisfaction of both,so we can have the trade resume.

SABRA LANE: Isit something perhaps exporters just have to factor in that sometimes decisionslike this, because at the time people said it came out of the blue, and toexpect the completely unexpected in China?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Ithink that can be said about any export market. What does matter, and what thisdoes reinforce, as I said, is to make sure that when we are marketing ourselvesto the world as providing premium products, that we have quality assurance thatmeets those standards as well. That includes making sure that technical issueslike labelling, for example, marry with the high standards that we setourselves, and that others expect of Australian produce.

SABRA LANE: Labor'sannounced that it would subject future free trade deals to analysis by theProductivity Commission before signing up to agreements. Notably, this yearCFMEU have fiercely attacked this as deeply misguided. What do you think?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Ithink this is just headline seeking by the Australian Labor Party. I mean, ifyou look at Labor's form on trade policy, they get the big calls wrong. BillShorten called the China Australia Free Trade Agreement, one of the mostsignificant agreements that the Coalition has put in place at just helping todrive exports from Australia to China, helping to underpin Australia's economicgrowth, helping to drive jobs, Bill Shorten described it as a 'dud deal'. Wenow have a situation where the Shadow Trade Minister has made this announcementand expects that this is going to be a game changer, but in reality it's not.The fact is that there is much scrutinise applied to trade deals already, doneby the Parliament, done by business groups, done by NGOs, so there is a lot oftransparency right now.

SABRA LANE:That mightbe the case, I looked back at the Parliamentary committee review of theUS-Australia deal last night and the Democrats then at the time opposed it, OneNation opposed it, Labor recommended it be passed but with great reluctance.Again, wouldn't it be better to have an independent analysis done?

STEVEN CIOBO: Thequestion becomes, what is the purpose of the Parliament? You see the fact isthat these trade deals aren't trade deals until they're passed by theParliament. I mean, that's the entire purpose of having these trade dealsscrutinized by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, and ultimately subjectusually to the passage in the Parliament of enabling legislation. That's theway that these things work. The notion that-

SABRALANE: Sorry, Minister.


SABRA LANE: There is agreat deal of scepticism about free trade and about politicians at the moment,especially in regional areas, about the benefits of free trade deals. What areyou doing to address that?

STEVEN CIOBO: Welllook, I acknowledge, first and foremost, that there are a number of Australianswho hold the view that free trade, trade liberalisation hasn't been good forthem. I think that view is incorrect and I'm very happy to be an advocate aboutwhy that view is incorrect. I'm very happy to reinforce that Australia enjoysthe high quality of living that we have today, among the highest standards ofliving in the world, in many respects built off the back of us havingliberalised trade. Now, my focus is upon making sure that advocacy in thatsector continues, but let's not pretend that pro-protectionist sentiment is a newthing. This has been around from the federation of our country. There havealways been those who have argued that the way to empower a country, the way tomake a country more prosperous is to build tariff laws, and to close down tradewith other competitor nations. That's not been the view that Australia'sadopted now for a long time and it is not the pathway to a more prosperousfuture.

SABRA LANE: How wisewill it be for MPs in the lighthouse to cross the floor to support a bankingRoyal Commission while the Government is down, Barnaby Joyce's number?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well Ithink, what really matters is what is the rationale for doing that, and thesimple fact is, is that as a Government we are taking concrete steps to doseveral things. One, we're reinforcing, of course, the role that ASIC has, interms of being a judge in relation to corporate behaviour. The second thing iswe've implemented a whole range of new legislation, including newaccountability frameworks on banking executives for the decisions that theytake. Now, Labor is all about the headline again. They want to stunt of a RoyalCommission. I would put to you that the Royal Commission will do, basically,next to nothing, except see millions and millions of dollars go into lawyers'pockets, rather than actually bringing about the cultural change that'srequired, which is where the Government's directing its efforts.

SABRA LANE: TradeMinister Steven Ciobo, thanks for talking to AM.

STEVENCIOBO: Good to be with you.

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