CNBC interview

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: TPP-11, US delegation.
01 March 2018

MARTIN SOONG: For more, let's bring in Steven Ciobo, Minister for Trade Tourism and Investment of Australia, live out of the capital, Canberra. Minister, good to talk to you again. It's been a while, thank you for your time. How happy are you that this is finally getting done?

STEVEN CIOBO: Quite delighted. This is a really good deal. The eleven countries that came together to make sure we could still progress this Trans-Pacific Partnership have done so in good faith. We were able to achieve a really solid outcome. This is a great win for Australia. A great win, in fact, for all eleven countries that are doing this deal. And part of our ongoing commitment to make sure we continue to liberalise trade, continue to liberalise investment, because we know it's good for economic growth and good for jobs.

MARTIN SOONG: Okay, so how about this though, I mean, the central fact is big daddy, US, is not part of this anymore. Trump pulled the US out of TPP, and back then, it had been described and hailed as a 21st century trade agreements, high on IP protection, labour protection, labour rights, etc. What about this revised deal?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look it's still a very comprehensive deal, and in fact one of the analogies that I've heard used about it, people have said this is a digital deal in an analogue world. The analogue world being trade policy more generally. So, it's still a comprehensive, ambitious trade deal. It is almost, basically, without peer, because what we were able to do was harness the existing framework of the original TPP-12 deal. We were disappointed, but not surprised, that the United States chose to withdraw. President Trump made it clear he was going to do that, but the remaining eleven of us said we are going to push forward with this regardless, because we know that this is a good outcome for each of us.

MARTIN SOONG: What sense do you get, could, possibly, the US return to this deal, and would it be welcome?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, it'd certainly be welcome to come back to the table. Australia's view, and indeed I think the view of all eleven countries that signed up to this TPP-11 deal, would like to welcome the United States back to the table. Ultimately, that's a choice for the Trump administration. I was in the United States last week and had the opportunity together with the Prime Minister to canvas a number of issues with the Trump administration. With the President and with my counterpart, US Trade Representative Lighthizer. It's their decision, ultimately though, whether they want to come back and be part of this.

MARTIN SOONG: Back when it was TPP-12, Minister, you will remember a lot of people were weighing it on the one hand against China's competing vision, which is RCEP. This new revised TPP-11 deal, does it stand up, can it stand up to RCEP?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'd probably just pull you up on the language there. This is not about a competing deal at all. The fact is that RCEP, or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, as it's called, is an important part of regional trade architecture, if we can conclude that deal. We're working very hard on it. Australia sits both in the TPP-11 as well as in RCEP. The sixteen countries involved in RCEP negotiations have varying levels of ambition about what we can achieve. Certainly, Australia's perspective is that we would like that to be a very high level of ambition, comprehensive trade deal too. But in trade policy terms, these things operate in parallel. It's not one competing against the other. They both bring value to the trade equation.

MATTHEW TAYLOR: Hi Minister, it's Matt here in Sydney joining in the conversation as well. I just want to go back to your discussions that you had with the Trump Administration. We have of course, heard President Trump publically say that he may re-join TPP. You just outlined some of the direction that you got out of the Administration there during your meetings, but did you get any sense when the United States is likely to make a decision on whether or not they will come back and join in TPP?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, you know Matt, the clock isn't ticking on this, and what I mean by that is that the eleven of us are pushing forward with putting this TPP-11 into effect. We'll have the signing in Santiago on March the 8th. We are all doing our bit to make sure that we realise this vision. Now, down the track, if the United States came back and said, "Yep, we want to be part of this." That'd be terrific. And, you know what, it's got open architecture, so we'd also be welcoming of other countries, potentially that would like to join. A number of countries have expressed interest in possibly joining, so there isn't a definitive short clock, so to speak, or time countdown that the US has to join by. But I think it would be good for them, I certainly think it would be good for the eleven of us if they took that decision, but ultimately, I guess that will be subject to domestic considerations in the United States.

MATTHEW TAYLOR: Big take away from the discussions between the Turnbull Administration and the delegation in Washington was this plan by Australia to invest in this US infrastructure build out. Tell us a little bit more about this, because it has drawn some criticism from, I guess some certain parts of the community, about Australian superannuation, or Australian pension funds, being poured into US infrastructure. How will you allay those concerns that are out there?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I mean, look, Australia's fortunate. There's a relatively modest population size of 24, 25 million. We have a very large national savings pool, more than two trillion dollars' worth of national savings. Now it just makes sense, frankly, for us to deploy that capital in a way that's diversified, in a way that maximises returns, of course, and mitigates risk as well, for those Australians that own that capital, and that is of course, every Australian who's got a superannuation plan. And in Australia, as you know Matt, it's compulsory. So it is about diversification, it's about opportunities for us to deploy capital in a way that's gonna give us the best diversified exposure. And it's also recognising the fact that as a country, Australia has real expertise, particularly around public private partnerships, and in particular how we can both design, construct, manage, and finance these large infrastructure projects.

MARTIN SOONG: Okay, Minister, appreciate your time. Thank you so much, great to talk to you. Steve Ciobo there, joining us live from Canberra.

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