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  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Free Trade Agreement with the UK; Protectionism.
15 September 2016

NINA DOS SANTOS: Earlier today, I spoke to Australia's trade minister, who had a very clear message for the British government.

STEVEN CIOBO: Let's be frank. Our conversations with the European Union are much more mature, much more advanced than they are with the UK. Where we are with respect to the European Union is we have a scoping study in place. That scoping study which looks at what a free trade agreement might actually look like, the kinds of issues that we'll embrace will be concluded towards the end of this year. And I hope that we'll be in a position to commence free trade agreement negotiations with Brussels by probably around the middle of next year. With the UK, that process is going to take longer because they're not in a position to formally commence negotiations on an FTA until they formally exit the European Union.

NINA DOS SANTOS: What do you think Australia's position will be with the United Kingdom when it does exit the European Union?

STEVEN CIOBO: There's very strong historical ties that bind Australia and the UK. Obviously, those strong ties come to the fore. There is also a strong political alignment between the May Government and the Turnbull Government. Both Prime Minister's, May and Turnbull, had very cordial discussions at G20 a little earlier this month, so we're intending to build upon that. My conversations with UK trade minister Dr Liam Fox were very cordial, so I'm very confident that we'll be able to strike a good quality agreement in time, but that is a number of years away.

NINA DOS SANTOS: There is increasing resentment against these all-encompassing multilateral big trade deals. You yourself have acknowledged this in the Australian press, saying that your own people are gradually becoming alienated by globalisation. The tide is turning against these kind of deals, and it's your job to negotiate.

STEVEN CIOBO: There's certainly a growing sentiment that I am aware of where people I think sometimes are bringing together and blending issues around globalisation with issues around free trade. Make no mistake, I am a firm, firm advocate about the benefits for free trade. I mean free trade has delivered, in the Australian context, improved living standards, greater national prosperity, improved employment outcomes, and indeed the Australian economy has had continuous economic growth for 25 years, which is a world record basically in terms of any of the immediate past history for a developed economy. So we are doing very well, we want to make sure we maintain that growth, and the key to maintain that growth is to engage with the world. If you actually look at those parts of the world that are opening up for trade, that are opening up for engagement, they predominantly tend to be in Asia, and they're the areas that are growing most rapidly. If you look at areas where they've turned their back or adopted a more pro-protectionist stance, those are areas where growth is much more anemic and much more slower then they tend to be in other parts of the world.

NINA DOS SANTOS: If you're listening to some of the rhetoric that's coming out of the US electoral campaign, particularly a lot of the things that Donald Trump has said, even though either candidate doesn't really seem to be in favour of these big trade deals, I must point out, are you becoming concerned about the potential for protectionism here?

STEVEN CIOBO: I am concerned about the growing pro-protectionist sentiment, it does worry me. The reason it worries me is because protectionism is a bit of a siren song. It might sound appealing, but all protectionism does in the long term is erode living standards, reduce national prosperity and actually result in the perverse outcome that many pro-protectionists are actually arguing. It reduces employment opportunities, it reduces economic growth, it reduces opportunities for trade to take place. History has taught us - it's a crystal clear lesson – history has taught us that free trade not only results in better national outcomes, but it actually drives higher living standards. If we turn our back on that, we're going to be turning our back on an approach that ultimately has helped deliver the prosperity that the Western world enjoys today.

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