ABC The World Today

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Free Trade Agreements with the United Kingdom and European Union; Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
05 September 2016

ELEANOR HALL: Malcolm Turnbull has begun laying the groundwork for a post-Brexit free trade deal with the UK, during a meeting with his British counterpart, Prime Minister Theresa May. And Australia's Trade Minister Steve Ciobo is heading to London later this week, where he too will discuss a trade deal with Britain. But the Minister is also keen to keep the Australia - EU trade negotiations on track. He spoke to political reporter Tom Iggulden in Canberra ahead of his trip.

STEVEN CIOBO: We've got well developed discussions underway with the European Union with a view to commencing free trade negotiations, I hope, in the first half of next year. Obviously, with the UK exiting the European Union, there'll be opportunities to build on the strong historical bonds that we have.

TOM IGGULDEN: Was the Brexit a handbrake, if you like, on a move toward an FTA with the EU?

STEVEN CIOBO: No. Truthfully, we've not seen any impact in terms of our discussions with the European Union. The UK decision and the referendum was a surprise for many, but that no withstanding, that decision having now been taken means as I indicate this week I'll be having conversations the European Union pursuing Cecilia Malmström, my trader counterpart from the EU, about what opportunities exist to continue progressing our discussions. But also, to have discussions such as those with Secretary Fox, my UK counterpart to look at the opportunities that exist with respect to building on our relationships.

TOM IGGULDEN: What about the domestic climate here in Australia? We have seen the election of a series of quite protectionist minded politicians, particularly in the new senate here. Will you have that in the back of your mind as you go forth into Europe and put these issues on the table?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look I'm very respectful about the concern, the alienation that some Australians have with respect to free trade, but I think it's important to reinforce that protectionism, that protectionist instincts are not the way forward. The fact is that Australia's standard of living, which has seen GDP growth for 25 years, which has seen national prosperity continue to increase is a consequence of numerous factors, but one of the most significant has been our willingness to engage with the world. We do not advance Australia's national interest. We don't advance Australia's national prosperity by turning our back on reaching trade agreements with other countries around the world because that drives jobs and it drives economic growth.

TOM IGGULDEN: Turning now to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, time has all but run out in the United States for Congress to ratify that deal. How much of a blow would it be to America's prestige in our part of the world for that deal to fall over?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, time hasn't run out, the clock is still ticking, and the fact is that all the opinion and advice within the US tends to indicate the lame duck session, that is the period after the presidential election and prior to the inauguration, represents the best opportunity for the Americans to look at ratifying the TPP. Whether that happens or not, only time will tell, but I'm certainly not going to be writing it off at this stage.

TOM IGGULDEN: Substantial alterations to that deal, though, would seem to be on the cards whatever happens in that lame duck session as you point out. Would that from Australia's point of view require a renegotiation of the terms?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, there is no way that we have a renegotiation around the terms of this agreement. The agreement's been struck.

TOM IGGULDEN: Have you communicated that to your American counterparts?

STEVEN CIOBO: Certainly have, yes. There's sensitivities, like any trade agreement as I said, sensitivities around all sides. The agreement that was reached is an agreement that represents the best efforts of all 12 member countries that were involved, there's no scope for renegotiation on those issues.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the Trade Minister Steve Ciobo speaking to Tom Iggulden.

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