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  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP); North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
24 January 2017

KRISTIE LU STOUT: Let's bring in Steven Ciobo, he's Australia's Minister for Trade, Tourism, and Investment and he joins us now live from New York. Sir, thank you so much for joining us here on CNN.


KRISTIE LU STOUT: Of course, as reported, the TPP, in its current form, is dead. But is it true that you plan to create a parallel agreement with other TPP members, without the US?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we have had discussions about a reformulated TPP, let's call it a TPP 12 minus one, the minus one, of course, being the fact that the United States is now not going to be part of the TPP. The fact is that the gains that were achieved and agreed to under the TPP are so significant that there's a widespread view among many countries that are TPP members that we shouldn't let these gains slip through our fingers. So we've been having some preliminary discussions about how we might be able to capture within a new, reformulated TPP those gains, just less the United States.

KRISTIE LU STOUT: Absolutely, you don't want to get rid of any gains that were already negotiated over the years. But several countries, including Japan and Malaysia, they've signalled that a TPP deal has no meaning without the United States. So is a, as you put it, TPP 12 minus one even possible?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, this is a subject that we've discussed, most recently at the World Economic Forum and in fact we had an informal WTO Ministerial meeting as well. I had the opportunity to talk with Japan, to speak with Canada, Mexico, conversations with Singapore, New Zealand, with Malaysia. There's a general consensus that there is gains there that need to be held onto. Now, ultimately, there's a lot of work that needs to be done, there's discussions that need to be had. Obviously, in the case of Canada and Mexico, they'll be watching what happens in terms of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. So there's a number of moving parts to this, but I go back to that central point which is that there's a lot of progress that was made under the TPP, which we don't want to let slip through our fingers.

KRISTIE LU STOUT: But even if you do move forward, with multiple players involved, but without the US, any economic benefits would be significantly reduced, right?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, yes and no. This is exactly the question that needs to be asked and analysed. In Australia's case, we already have a free trade agreement with the United States and we've been a good friend with the United States for, of course, decades and decades. We want to continue to build on that relationship. Under the TPP, we had the opportunity to have, for the first time, a comprehensive agreement with, for example, Canada and Mexico, which we don't currently have. The same applies to a number of other countries. It was the opportunity to actually have some strong bilateral agreements within the framework of the TPP. Plus, it was the fact that we saw under the TPP the application of standards, like environmental standards, labour standards, those types of benefits, which we don't want to lose.

KRISTIE LU STOUT: Yeah, you mentioned those benefits, like labour standards, and I've got to ask you a question about China. With Trump pulling out of the TPP, many people are saying that the door is open for China to assume a global leadership role in trade. Given China's history, is that a good thing?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'd always reject the notion that it's one or the other. The fact is that these operate in parallel, Australia is also a member of the negotiations around the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or what's called RCEP. We're a part of that because, of course, our geography is within Asia. We're having discussions with a lot of trade partners. We already have in place a free trade agreement with ASEAN countries, but RCEP provides opportunity to have an agreement on a broader basis, 16 countries in total. So there's a key role there for RCEP and, in fact, part of the vision was to have both RCEP and the TPP coming together at some future point for what they call the free trade agreement area of Asia-Pacific. That's the long-term APEC vision, to have a regional trading block across Asia and the Pacific.

KRISTIE LU STOUT: Finally, I want to get your gut reaction to Donald Trump's decision here. We know it was expected. He did, for a long time, pledge to scrap the TPP. He's done that, but how do you feel about working with America under Trump and the trade relationship between the US and Australia?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, Australia and the United States have been long friends for a long time. We're very close friends, allies, and we will continue to have a very solid and sound working relationship under the Trump Administration, as indeed, like we had with the Obama Administration. As far as I'm concerned, as Australia's Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister, we will go forward, for me, in the case of pursuing Australia's national interests. Now, we'll pursue that national interest under multilateral, plurilateral, as well as bilateral deals. I understand the Trump administration only wants bilateral deals and, of course, that's their prerogative. In Australia's case, though, we'll pursue multilateral, plurilateral, and bilateral deals because we can achieve good outcomes for Australia using all three.

KRISTIE LU STOUT: Alright, Steven Ciobo, Trade Minister of Australia joining us live from New York. Thank you very much, good luck to you. Take care.

STEVEN CIOBO: Thank you.

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