BBC Radio 4

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Donald Trump; Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
25 November 2016

NICK ROBINSON: Steven Ciobo is Trade Minister for Australia, one of the countries which the deal covers. I'm delighted to say he joins us from Canberra. Good morning to you.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good morning.

NICK ROBINSON: Do you believe that this does mark the beginning of the end of an era in which barriers have been coming down rather than going up.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I certainly hope that's not the case. Look, the importance of focusing on the many benefits that flow from free and liberalised trade, now more than ever, need to be reinforced. The fact is that this has been what has underpinned improvements in living standards around the world for, well, I would argue in a contemporary context, the last 40 or 50 years, and we need to make sure that we are not lulled by the siren's song of protectionism, which will do nothing except erode living standards in the future.

NICK ROBINSON: But your own opposition parties in Australia are making the same sort of noises that Donald Trump has been making, which is this exports jobs from your country to another. It's interesting to see a World Bank survey for example, that says Vietnam, another signatory to the deal, their GDP will go up by 10 per cent, yours by less than 1 per cent, if they're right.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, our GDP is growing certainly far faster than 1 per cent. I mean, this year, Australia's GDP growth rate was about 3.3 per cent, and incidentally, what we've actually seen is that that growth was driven by an increase in Australian exports. Export growth at a time when traditionally as a country that's been very strong on resources and energy, and has felt the burden of a declining commodity price, has actually seen an improvement of our economic growth rate as a consequence of exports in a range of different sectors, that notwithstanding that commodity price cycle downturn. So-

NICK ROBINSON: The figure I was quoting, let me just be clear, the figure from the World Bank was the estimated increase in your speed of growth according to the World Bank from this deal, much higher in other Asian countries. Now, the way in which Steve Bannon puts it, he is, you know, will be the strategist for President Trump. The globalist, says Mr Bannon, they've gutted the American working class, they've created a middle class in Asia. Now, what people are saying in developed countries often, and your own opponents in Australia are saying is, in the end these free trade deals are great if you're already rich. They're great if you're a developing country and not terribly good if you're white and working class.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that's simply not the experience that actually plays out in reality. Look, I'm very respectful that a number of people feel that globalisation and liberalised trade has not served them well, but the fact is that the biggest pressure that we see taking place, especially for those, to go to your very point, those who perhaps are working class and white, is that the forces of automation, the replacement of what were previously labour-intensive jobs with increasingly automated lines, is having the biggest impact there. So for example, I saw a study by the American Enterprise Institute that showed that automobile output in the United States is at record levels. And they're doing it with a workforce that is 30 per cent smaller than it was in the previous boom. Now the reason they're able to achieve more output with fewer people isn't because of trade deals. It's because of automation. And that's one of the real pressures. But, you know, the real burden that has to be met by the political class, for lack of a better term, is to in very clear terms, address that issue, make sure that we highlight that trade deals are crucial to future growth, and make sure that we are focused on how we spread the benefits of those trade deals to all strata in society.

NICK ROBINSON: And in the meantime, do you, in Australia, in the other countries that have signed up to this deal, do you plan on one without America? Do you throw open your arms to China, and say, well look, perhaps they will replace the United States as the big global trading economy.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Australia's view is absolutely that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to cite that one particular example, is of benefit to all 12 signatories. All 12 member states that formed the agreement. We are going to press on with our domestic processes around ratification. I know a number of others are doing the same in terms of those 12 countries, because we know that this is a deal that is good for exporters because it harmonises the rules, it facilitates trade across all of the 12 member states in a way that mans that there's less red tape and fewer barriers to trade. So, we're going to press on now, whether or not the United States ultimately takes the decision to be there or not is of course up to them. But we will also look at opportunities for other countries to join, and that may potentially include China. It may include, for example, Indonesia.

NICK ROBINSON: Steven Ciobo, Australian Trade Minister, thanks for joining us.

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