• Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: TPP, China relations.
Gold Coast
13 April 2018

STEVEN CIOBO: I might just make a few remarks and I am happy to take any questions, obviously. Can I say, in respect of the TPP, Australia welcomes the recent comments that have apparently been made by President Trump, both in terms of reported comments as well as his tweet with respect to the TPP. Let's be clear, Australia firmly is of the view that the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is good for Australia. It is good for Australian exporters, it's good for opening up markets for Australian exporters, and that's going to drive economic growth, it's going to drive jobs. And that's precisely the reason why the Coalition pursued the TPP, even when there were a lot of headwinds, let's be frank, going against it. Now the fact that the United States is talking again, or reportedly talking again, about possibly looking at re-joining the TPP is something we would welcome. I made the comment previously that having the United States come back into the TPP-11 would be a step in the right direction. Right now, Australian agricultural exporters in particular, are materially advantaged relative to American agricultural exporters, and I think that's one of the reasons why the United States is having a second look at possibly re-joining the TPP. But let's also be clear, I think there's very little appetite among these TPP-11 countries for there to be any meaningful renegotiation, or indeed, and substantial renegotiation of the TPP-11 at all, what we're all focussed on is making sure we can bring the TPP-11 into effect as soon as possible. At this stage we envisage that will probably be at the beginning of next year. All eleven countries are going through their domestic ratification processes, Australia included. And we hope the TPP-11 will come into effect at the start of next year. I don't believe there will be any appetite to put pause on that while we have further discussions with the United States. At best, I would see a process where these two events operate in parallel, namely the TPP-11 have their domestic ratification processes underway with the view to bringing the TPP-11 into effect. Meanwhile we can, if the United States wants to pursue those conversations, have conversations with the United States about what that might look like. But again, I would stress, and I certainly don't speak on behalf of the TPP-11, I'm only speaking in terms of Australia's view, we welcome the United States coming back to the table, but I don't see any wholesale appetite for any material renegotiation of the TPP-11. So happy to take some questions.

JOURNALIST: Could Australia, especially farmers, actually be worse off if the US joins the TPP because of its sheer size and scale in the market?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, Australia's agricultural lobby, our farmers, are big beneficiaries of the host of different free trade agreements that the Coalition has put into place over the past several years. The TPP-11, we haven't yet felt the benefits of that because that hasn't yet come into effect but it is very promising, we get access to two totally new markets, including Canada and Mexico. It builds off the great work that we've done with China, with Japan and with South Korea and of course, the work that now I'm continuing to build on with Singapore as well as in Latin America, through Peru, and the negotiations we're having with the Pacific Alliance countries. As well as, of course, the negotiations we hope will commence soon with the European Union and the UK. So, like anything, there's pros and cons, we've got to work our way through it, but let's just see what the Americans do.

JOURNALIST: Do you put any great credence on Trump's tweet? Or is he just talking tough to his own people?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, we have seen reports that apparently the Administration might look at re-joining the TPP. I've said consistently now for a number of months, Australia would welcome the United States coming back to the table, but I also want to be clear – there isn't an appetite for any substantial renegotiation in any material way of the TPP, we have the TPP-11. All eleven countries are focused on their domestic ratification process, that is, we want to bring the TPP-11 into effect, we want that to happen sooner rather than later. But I, of course, would welcome America coming back to the table.

JOURNALIST: If the US wants changes to the TPP you've signed, regardless of what those changes are, how achievable is a consensus, in your experience?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that goes pretty much to what I've just been saying, which is, I don't detect any wholesale appetite for there to be material reform or renegotiation around the TPP-11. We've got a deal, it's a good deal. Eleven countries have signed up, we're firm on the deal, we're all working to put the deal into effect. I can't see that all being thrown open now to appease the United States but we would welcome the United States coming back to the table and we can have discussions.

JOURNALIST: Have you, or your department, or the Washington Australian embassy had any contact with Trump Administration since the President ordered his economics advisers to get into that deal?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I've seen reports, I can't speak to what the US Post has done, that is, what Washington has done. I haven't spoken to my counterpart in the last 48 hours, no.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect to play a role to facilitate America's entry?

STEVEN CIOBO: Just so we don't get ahead of ourselves, let's see what the United States decides to do. At this stage, all we have is a tweet from the President and reports about what the President may or may not have said. I make the point again, having the United States come back to the TPP-11 would be a stepping stone in the right direction. This is a great deal, the fact that Australia and Japan worked so constructively, cooperatively together with the one nine countries that comprise the TPP-11, all of us committed to achieving a great outcome in the Pacific, a great outcome that's particularly of benefit to Australia and, indeed, for the other ten countries as well, all of this is a big positive for Australian exporters which is gonna help drive economic growth, drive jobs in the same way that we've seen that happening with China, with Japan, with South Korea, Singapore and Peru, and the other FTA deals that we've done.

I might just give you some comments on China, while I've got you if there's interest because I have seen some reports about the nature of the bilateral relationship between Australia and China. I'll take this opportunity to reinforce that Australia's bilateral trade investment relationship with China is very strong. They are our largest trading partner, we've got a very strong trade investment relationship, it's one that has gone from strength to strength. We've worked really constructively together to make sure that we iron out any differences or any irritations on both a trade-investment front. It's a strong relationship, it's one that will continue to be very strong in the future and I very much look forward to leading a delegation of Australian businesses to China later this year when they have their big Import Expo to showcase Australia and what our exporters can do to continue to drive exports into China, so let's put to bed the notion that the relationship between Australia and China is anything other than very healthy.

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