ABC Radio National

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC); Donald Trump; Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
18 November 2016

FRAN KELLY: Earlier thismorning I spoke with Australia's Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo who's already inPeru for the APEC talks, joining us from Lima.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good morning, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Before he jumped onthe plane to Lima, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the election ofDonald Trump will dominate everything there at APEC. Is that indeed what youare witnessing?

STEVEN CIOBO: What we're noticingof course is that there's been a lot of discussion. A number of the bilateralmeetings that I've had people have been speculating as to what President-electTrump's trade policy might be. Of course my focus as Australia's Trade Ministeris to continue advancing Australia's national interest. APEC serves to put afocus on liberalised trade and trade opportunities. That of course is the focusof discussions here in Lima.

FRAN KELLY: Well the PrimeMinister warned last night of the current and growing mood for protectionism,and he was making the case that global trade increases prosperity, but it mustbe fair. Then said, "Fairness doesn't mean looking at a narrow set of winnersor losers". Do you think Donald Trump understands that?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well Fran, you'llunderstand, I'm not going to get into a psychological analysis ofPresident-elect Trump, but what I would say is that clearly Australia as acountry has been a major beneficiary of the various trade agreements that havebeen put in place over many, many years. The fact that we are going into our26th, there's elements in the community that feel that free trade andliberalised trade haven't served their interests. That's not lost on me orindeed on anybody. What we need to continue to make clear though is that adirect consequence of liberalised trade has been an improvement in livingstandards, and if we go down the path of adopting a more protectionistapproach, all it's going to do is mean fewer job opportunities and lower growthin the future.

FRAN KELLY: And isn't thatexactly what we've seen Donald Trump signaling during this presidentialelection campaign that he intends to do? He has no intention of pursuing theTrans-Pacific Partnership.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well again Fran,I'm not going to revisit the US election. The American people have had theirsay. They've chosen to elect President Trump, or President-elect Trump andhe'll take over the administration as of the 20th of January next year. That isthe framework in the United States. It doesn't impact on Australia's advocacy,on my advocacy as Australia's Trade Minister to pursue Australia's nationalinterest. I want trade deals that are good for Australia. I want trade dealsthat are good for Australian workers, that are good for Australian wages, thathelp to provide opportunity for Australian businesses to be able to export tothe world.

FRAN KELLY: Well was theTrans-Pacific Partnership going to be that kind of trade deal? Australiangovernments including Andrew Robb spent many years trying to negotiate it andit looks as though now it's dead.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well absolutelyit's our continued view that the Trans-Pacific Partnership does representopportunity not only for Australia, but we'd argue for all 12 member statesthat reached agreement around the TPP. But we've got to be realistic as well,and that is that it would appear that the United Stated congressionalratification of the TPP is less likely than likely. But you know, there's up to24 months for the TPP to be implemented. We're still only in the first eight ornine months of that process.

FRAN KELLY: Well, yes, but Iwonder if we're just wasting time even with that attitude. Let's have a listento Candidate Trump during the presidential campaign.

DONALD TRUMP: The Trans-PacificPartnership is another disaster, just a continuing rape of our country. That'swhat it is, too. It's a harsh word. It's a rape of our country.

FRAN KELLY: That kind of talk:it's time for Australia and the others to move on, isn't it?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, it's not acase of all eggs in one basket, Fran. The TPP is, as I said, an agreement thatwe know will have benefits for Australia if it comes into effect. As Iindicated, we're only nine months in of a 24-month process, so there's a longway to go.

FRAN KELLY: But you just heardDonald Trump there. There is no way, with that kind of talk, he intends toallow America to be a part of pursuing this. Does there?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, it's notentirely up to the President. It's a Congressional decision. We've got to seewhat the United States Congress decides to do. That's why, as I indicated, wejust have to wait and see what comes to pass with the US. But more importantly,Fran, Australia's interests are served on multiple fronts. It's not a case ofall eggs in one basket. I continue to pursue Australia's interests in relationto the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. So there are a lot of veryexciting opportunities which will underpin future living standards.

FRAN KELLY: And can I just askyou about the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership? This is seen to bethe partnership that might sort of help fill the breach when the TPP basicallyends up bust. There's a very big push by China for this kind of free trade dealin Asia. Is this China stepping into the breach, trying to take some leadershipin terms of trade?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, again, Fran,you're sort of asking me to be a commentator on what China's up to, and I'm notgoing to do that. What I will say, though is that I'm pursuing the RegionalComprehensive Economic Partnership, or what's called RCEP, with a view towhat's going to be good for Australia. It has the potential of giving us morethan 50 per cent of the global population, more than 30 per cent of global GDP.It's a potentially very big, important trade deal that, if we're able tosuccessfully land it over the coming months and year or so ahead, we couldcreate, again, terrific opportunity for Australian businesses to export througha common set of rules across the region.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, I canhear that you're reluctant to make too much commentary on what a Trumppresidency, the impact it might have. Fair enough. We're not there yet, Isuppose, but can I quote you from Jacques Nasser, departing BHP Billitonchairman? I'm sure you know Jacques Nasser. He said the world will be incomplete trauma if Donald Trump puts in place the 45 per cent trade tariffs onChina he flagged during his election campaign. Has that been discussed in thecorridors there around APEC, and have you got any sign or any inkling ofwhether Donald Trump is likely to pursue such a radical move? Because thatwould impact on Australia, wouldn't it?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well I cantruthfully say that no one has discussed with me the issue in relation totariffs. But look Fran I guess the fundamental point is this: APEC serves tocontinue to reduce barriers to trade. Reducing barriers to trade has beenabsolutely crucial to lifting literally tens of millions, if not hundreds ofmillions, of people out of poverty. It's been fundamental to Australia'scontinued economic growth, and what is in many respects economically a bit of agolden era. Now in saying that, I am not for one second dismissive of those whofeel like trade agreements haven't worked out well for them. I recognise that,but the fundamental and really important point to make is that these tradeagreements absolutely serve our national interest, and if we walk away fromthem, if we turn our back on liberalised trade, all we're doing is consigningour future and our future generations to a lower standard of living than weenjoy today.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, thank youvery much for joining us.

STEVEN CIOBO: A pleasure. Thankyou.

FRANKELLY: TradeMinister Steve Ciobo taking time out from the Trade Ministers' Summit there atthe APEC meeting in Peru.

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