Doorstop: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Ministerial Meeting

  • Transcript, E&OE
Belmond Hotel, Lima, Peru
17 November 2016

STEVEN CIOBO: It's terrific for us all to be assembled here in Lima, Peru. Everyone's feeling fresh and great. I've come obviously as part of the economic week that we have for APEC. An opportunity for Australia to sit down with all 21 members, including Australia, of APEC. A chance for us to talk about what it is that we can achieve together, our focus on reducing - [interruption] APEC is an opportunity for us all to come together, to talk about, collectively, what we can do to reduce barriers to trade to help drive additional trade which we know powers economic growth. Ultimately increased trade also drives increased job opportunities, not only for Australians but for all members of APEC. That has been the core focus for APEC for many, many years and will continue to be the core focus. We'll also have the opportunity at this meeting to have discussion around what's called FTAAP, the Free Trade Agreement Asia Pacific, which is an initiative which we've been looking at and other countries. A collective study that's being undertaken to look at what that might embrace and embody as an agreement going forward if we are to pursue it. Certainly Australia's view is that we need to continue to drive liberalised trade. We need to continue to facilitate trade as being fundamental to making sure, not only the Australian economy, but all members of APEC are in a stronger position as a consequence.

JOURNALIST: Minister, how much of an impact is the Trump Administration? How much of an impact is that going to have on the talks you're going to be having over the next couple of days?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look it's only very early days still in terms of President-elect Trump's Administration. We've got to see ultimately what the shape of the new Trump Administration will look like. There's a number of policy areas that I'm sure over time we'll get more clarity on, but this is still only early days. That notwithstanding, APEC serves to drive, as much as possible, lower barriers to trade and to also facilitate trade between all APEC members. This has been fundamental to driving economic growth in the region and driving employment prospects.

JOURNALIST: But given that President-elect Trump doesn't much care for free trade according to his campaign remarks, do you assess there to be any risk to US engagement in APEC beyond this meeting?

STEVEN CIOBO: I'm not sure that's a correct characterisation of what it is that President-elect Trump has said. He's made the point on a number of occasions that his focus are on trade agreements that are good for the United States, good for American workers, good for American wages, and good for the American budget. Those goals aren't dissimilar to the goals that I and the Coalition have with trade agreements for Australia. We want trade agreements that are good for Australia, good for Australian workers, good for Australian wages, good for Australian exporters which create job opportunities. So I'm very confident that all APEC members will recognise that by reducing barriers to trade we drive economic growth and that's even more crucial in this post-GFC world that we do everything we can to make sure that we put the policy levers in place that can help to drive economic growth and help drive employment.

JOURNALIST: Minister, how could the practical death of the TPP be anything but a big setback for a meeting that is so focused on trade?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well the Trans-Pacific Partnership is one important agreement. An agreement that Australia certainly strongly backs, but an agreement which looks less likely than likely to be ratified by the United States. We've got to wait and see what happens in the lame duck session. I've consistently said we need to wait for the lame duck session to take place. There's a number of different views within the United States, so only time will tell. But that is only one agreement as well as part of a broad tapestry of different agreements that are currently under negotiation including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership as well as discussions here around the Free Trade Agreement for the Asia Pacific region. Trade is still very much a key focus for APEC. Trade is still crucial to driving economic growth and trade is still crucial to driving employment opportunities, not only for Australians but for everybody in APEC countries.

JOURNALIST: Just on that RCEP and another acronym there that-

STEVEN CIOBO: That's right. FTAAP.

JOURNALIST: Indeed. Some international press are saying that President Xi is ready here at this meeting to sell the opportunities of that because it's a China-sponsored agreement. They would see this as a strategic win; them moving into that space with the US retreating from the TPP. Is that how Australia sees it?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well I'm not going to get into commentary. I'll leave that for commentators to give commentary. What I'm going to do as Australia's Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister, is pursue Australia's national interest. That means pursuing trade agreements that are good for Australia, that are good for Australian workers, good for Australian wages, good for our budget and help boost exports which ultimately drives the Australian economy.

JOURNALIST: What will you be telling the- I think you're meeting with the trade minister that's coming in from the US tomorrow. What will you be telling him tomorrow at this meeting? How high is the TPP on that agenda?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well I'm not going to flag ahead of time my conversation with Ambassador Froman, the United States trade rep. Certainly though from an Australian perspective, we continue to pursue trade agreements that are good for Australia. I know that the United States trade ambassador is focused on the many benefits that flow from the TPP, as well as other agreements. We've got a number of areas that we're working collaboratively on, including for example the Trade in Services Agreement which is currently nearing the end stages and we hope we'll conclude this year. For example, the Trade in Services Agreement or what's called TiSA, is another terrific opportunity for Australian services exports. It would see the rollout across 50 countries potentially of a framework and approach in terms of policy on services trade that is entirely consistent with Australia's interest and entirely consistent with the approach that Australia has. There continues to be very strong moves to boost growth, to boost job opportunities, and to achieve that through making sure that we drive extra trade.

JOURNALIST: At your meeting tomorrow with the US government's trade representative, do you anticipate that a review of the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement will be discussed at the meeting?STEVEN CIOBO: No, I certainly don't.

JOURNALIST: Minister, you are a prophet of trade, a preacher of trade at a time where perhaps the most anti-trade candidate in recent memory in the US has got the most powerful job in the world, how do you feel? Have you had a mountain lobbed in front of you?

STEVEN CIOBO: Not only am I very positive about the benefits of trade and we can continue to see how the Australian economy is doing and performing so much better as a direct consequence in particular of the three free trade agreements that Australia was able to secure under the Coalition with China, with South Korea, and with Japan. These have in many respects helped to drive extra economic activity in Australia. And the simple fact is that has been a crucial part of the way in which we've achieved hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the Australian economy with that economic growth. I am still very positive about the benefits of trade. I'll continue to talk about the multitude of benefits that Australians enjoy as a consequence of trade. And President-elect Trump, as I said, I think is often mistakenly characterised as having said he is against trade when he has consistently stated that he is not against trade, but he is in fact in favour of trade agreements that he considers are good for America.

JOURNALIST: But it's a harder sell for you now, right?

STEVEN CIOBO: I think it's crucial for a trade minister, and indeed any government, to make the case for free trade and liberalised trade. To make the very - to join the dots in a very clear way so Australians get that as a consequence of trade agreements that we undertake, it's not about losing jobs or outsourcing work, it's actually about opening new markets for Australian exporters. And we have seen a direct consequence of that increased economic activity. We have seen 25 years of continuous economic growth in Australia. Now that's not all because of trade, but trade is a very big component. We're continuing to see job opportunities being driven by investment into Australia. That investment into Australia is helping to create job opportunities for Australians. Often in the public eye people will see the closure of a factory, but they won't read about the multitude of new factories, warehouses, job opportunities, services exports, that all directly flow from liberalised trade from the trade agreements that we strike

JOURNALIST: Minister, the new multilateral trade deal that you spoke of earlier that is likely discussed at this meeting, be a realist for us, how many years before you think there might be incumbent before it actually means something?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well the Free Trade Agreement for the Asia Pacific is an idea that's only in its very early stages. We've got to assess, and we'll be doing that here at APEC, what the collective mood is in relation to potentially starting negotiations around an agreement like that. What that could possibly entail. But I would stress again that that is only one among many different agreements that are being looked at. Australia is an economy that is 75 per cent built on services. Four out of five jobs are services jobs, and yet we only have about 22 per cent of our exports being services related so there is tremendous potential to boost services exports from Australia, to drive Australian jobs as a direct consequence. So I'm very focused on opportunities as well to boost services exports from Australia and that's a key part of the global focus in relation trade as well.

JOURNALIST: But all of those deals are years off.

STEVEN CIOBO: No. There's lots of deals that are currently in their closing stages. The Trade in Services Agreement is an agreement we hope to reach this year. An agreement that potentially would include 50 countries. An agreement that would see the rollout of services trade and the facilitation of services trade which is great for a services-based economy like Australia.

JOURNALIST: Around APEC you have ABAC and CEOs summits and this sort of thing. There is a view expressed by analysts, including form the Lowy Institute in Australia, that as a deal maker Donald Trump may be attracted to come to these gatherings as a trade show rather than a framework agreement free trade forum. Would that be a bad thing?


JOURNALIST: Donald Trump, the US administration engaging in APEC in a different way. It's a place where business is done and deals are made at a commercial level as opposed to government-to-government framework agreements.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well I think you're asking me to sort of speculate about what might be. Let's just wait and see. I think it's early days. President-elect Trump is someone who's got a mandate from the American people. He's got an approach to trade that I'm sure Australia can continue to work alongside with. We are longstanding friends, Australian and the United States. I'm very confident that we can work together for the betterment of both Australia and the United States. And indeed, the core focus, as I said, for APEC has for many decades been upon boosting trade opportunities and the economic growth that flows directly from that.

JOURNALIST: Minister, does President-elect Trump have any members of his transition team coming to APEC and will you and the Prime Minister be making appointments with them?

STEVEN CIOBO: I'm not certain whether he will have. Certainly I'm meeting with members of the Obama Administration and, of course, he is still President and will be until January the 20th. And in that capacity, we'll be meeting with key members of the US administration, that is the Obama Administration. Whether there are some of the transition team coming from President-elect Trump's transition team, I'm not certain. Okay? Thanks, everyone.

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