Doorstop following meeting with RT Hon Liam Fox MP, Secretary of State for International Trade of the UK

  • Transcript, E&OE
Abingdon Street Gardens, Westminster, London
06 September 2016

STEVEN CIOBO: I am Steven Ciobo, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. If I can just make a few remarks and then I'll take questions. Obviously the relationship between Australia and the UK is a strong historical relationship. We've got very strong trade ties, strong investment ties, and following the decision of the UK in the referendum to formally exit from the European Union there presents, of course, terrific opportunity. I've taken this opportunity to come along and travel to the UK, the chance to meet with my counterpart, Secretary Fox, to discuss Australia's relationship with the UK, to consider what our actual trade investment relationship might look like following the formal exit of the UK from the EU. I'm very pleased; we had a really positive and cordial meeting. There's a very strong alignment between the UK and Australia in terms of our aspirations and our mission with respect to both Australia and the UK. I'm very confident that we'll be able to find a pathway forward that reflects the real strength and political goodwill between Theresa May's Government and Malcolm Turnbull's Government. You're aware, of course, that trade is front and centre in terms of the federal coalition government's approach to driving jobs and driving growth in Australia. We want to make sure that we build on the strong relationship we have with the UK and I'm very confident that off the back of today's conversations with both Secretary Fox and with Lord Price that we'll find a pathway forward that's going to be a real asset to both Australia and the UK over the months and years ahead. I'm happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, a simple question: is Brexit going to mean that there is going to be more trade and investment between Australia and the UK, or less?

STEVEN CIOBO: I'm very confident that, following the formal exit from the European Union, Australia and the UK's relationship will go from strength to strength. We have, of course, terrific ties, terrific bonds, and I think that Brexit is a real opportunity for Australia to forge that relationship with the UK even more strongly. I would stress, of course, that we have in place conversations with the European Union as well. We've got a scoping study that's underway and, in fact, reaching its conclusion. Our conversations with the European Union are more advanced than they are with the UK at this stage, so I'm also hopeful and confident that over the coming months we'll be in a position to - I hope - formally commence negotiations with the European Union.

JOURNALIST: How long could it take to have a free trade agreement between the UK and Australia?

STEVEN CIOBO: The United Kingdom's in a position where they're not actually able to negotiate a free trade agreement until such time as they formally exit the European Union. That notwithstanding, we had very important conversations today about what we can do in the interim and I guess in many respects watch this space!

JOURNALIST: Okay. So if Australia does negotiate with the UK, Australia's in a position of advantage, aren't they, because the UK will be quite desperate politically to get a quick free trade agreement so it looks like they're open for business again. Is that an advantage for Australia in any negotiations?

STEVEN CIOBO: If you look at the comments that were made by the two respective prime ministers at the G20 over the weekend, you can see that there's a genuine bond between Australia and the UK, a lot of history there, a very strong relationship to build on. I'm very confident that given the political alignment between the May Government and the Turnbull Government, given that both governments have such a strong emphasis on driving jobs, driving economic growth through trade and investment, that we'll be able to get an alignment in the near future.

JOURNALIST: We saw Japan just recently come out with a sort of wish list for the UK Government in terms of Brexit. What did you suggest the Australian Government would like to see as a priority from the Brexit negotiations?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the conversation --- Just to clarify, from the Brexit negotiations, you mean the UK separating from the EU?

JOURNALIST: Yeah, what ---

STEVEN CIOBO: Or do you mean Australia and the UK?

JOURNALIST: What are the sorts of priorities that Australia would like to see, I suppose, as the Brexit negotiations take place?

STEVEN CIOBO: Priorities for whom, the UK and the EU or Australia and the UK?

JOURNALIST: Australia and the UK.

STEVEN CIOBO: Given our strong historical ties, Australia and the UK have a lot of alignment in terms of our desires and aspirations and ambitions with respect to our trade investment links. The UK is a very large source market for Australia in terms of investment. Likewise, Australians invest heavily into the UK. In my conversations we canvassed what our future relationship might look like following the UK's exit from the European Union. I think it's safe to say that there's a very strong political alignment, a very fervent belief that trade is good for both economies and understanding that through solid trade agreements we can reach win-win outcomes that are good for the UK and good for Australia, and understanding that we're able to take this relationship forward. What we're looking at is how exactly we'll go about doing that. Today's conversations were an important marker. We have, as I said, alignment in terms of ambition, alignment in terms of philosophical approach, and in terms of the May Government and the Turnbull Government we're both putting trade investment front and centre when it comes to driving our respective economies and driving employment growth.

JOURNALIST: Countries can talk about their relationship, but businesses need reason to invest and reason to do business in the UK. Now that the UK is no longer going to be a gateway to Europe, isn't that going to be a disincentive? Isn't that going to mean that fewer Australian companies are going to want to commit resources into the UK when it's no longer a gateway to Europe?

STEVEN CIOBO: The consistent feedback that I've had from Australian businesses is that there's a lot of interest in the UK. The UK is a big and important market in its own right. As they move over the next couple of years towards exiting formally from the European Union, Australian businesses will be appraised of the opportunities that exist in the UK market. Bear in mind already that the UK is a very big source destination, in other words a big market, for Australian investment into the UK. It's worth some AUD350 billion in terms of the total pool of investment stock in the UK. Likewise, UK businesses have a total investment pool of around AUD500 million worth in Australia. We're talking about two economies that already recognise the opportunities, are building on solid business investment ties and building on solid trade opportunities as well. What we've got now is the political alignment and political will to make sure we continue to move forward on that basis.

JOURNALIST: At the moment farmers in the UK have some of the most generous subsidies in the world courtesy of the EU, and the UK Government has promised to keep those subsidies in place until 2020. If Australia was to pursue a free trade agreement with the UK, would they have to make some kind of concessions on agricultural subsidies?

STEVEN CIOBO: "They" being the UK?


STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I think it's important we don't get too far ahead of ourselves at this early stage in terms of which sectors might have to make what sacrifices, and so on and so forth. What we have today, and what we canvassed today, is political alignment and political will to drive an agenda in terms of the Australia-UK relationship that will help to reinforce economic growth in both countries and reinforce job opportunities in both countries.

JOURNALIST: What about Germany? The Foreign Minister is in Berlin for talks today. In the wake of Brexit, how much more important is Australia's relationship with Germany?

STEVEN CIOBO: We continue to put a lot of focus obviously on our relationship with Germany and also on our relationship with the European Union. I'm visiting both the UK and the European Union on this particular trip. It's an opportunity to continue what are already very good discussions that we've been having with the European Union about a possible Australia-EU FTA. That scoping study is almost finished and, as I indicated, I'd hope by the first half of next year to formally commence negotiations with the European Union. Germany, of course, is a key driver within the EU, but we've also got very strong relationships on a bilateral basis between Australia and Germany too.

JOURNALIST: It's fair to say, isn't it, that pursuing that FTA with the EU is more important for the Australian Government at the moment than pursuing an FTA down the track with the UK?

STEVEN CIOBO: I'd characterise it as saying that our discussions with the European Union are important discussions, they're more advanced than discussions that we're having with the UK. Clearly there remains some uncertainty about which pathway the UK will adopt with respect to exiting from the European Union. We've got a scoping study underway with the EU, mature discussions have advanced significantly and I hope are the prelude to FTA negotiations formally commencing next year. With the UK we've got strong political alignment, a consistent philosophical approach and a desire to make sure that free trade is front and centre in driving economic growth and jobs for both countries.

JOURNALIST: Minister, large countries, including the US, struggle to do multiple free trade agreements at the same time. How is it going to be possible to get this fast-tracked UK-Australia deal that people keep referring to, when China, India, much larger countries, are surely going to be ahead of us in the queue when the UK is in a position to finally start negotiating deals?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, there's a lot of assertions in the question which I'm not sure are accurate. The fact is that Australia and the UK have strong historical ties and I'm confident we can build off those. As I said, there's strong political alignment. You know, watch this space and we'll see what we can do politically over the next little while.

JOURNALIST: So you think we can get in front of China?

STEVEN CIOBO: Watch this space!

JOURNALIST: Sorry, one final one. In your conversations with Secretary of State Fox, did you talk about the global backlash, if I can use that word, or opposition to free trade and how best to tackle that problem?

STEVEN CIOBO: We did have a conversation about our mutual concern about what seems to be a level of, I guess, ventilation around protectionism, which is worrying. I've described those that are pro-protectionist as being the equivalent of anti-vaxxers. The fact is that what is required is consistent disciplined advocacy about why free trade actually drives national prosperity and why free trade underpins economic growth, why free trade underpins job growth. I intend to make sure that I'm a strong advocate about the many benefits that flow from free trade and reject completely the fear of protectionism - I should say the fears that protectionists put forward. The simple fact is we cannot allow a situation to arise where protectionism erodes our future standard of living and our future prosperity.

JOURNALIST: Minister, one more question. There's been a lot of conjecture about what this Government's actual approach to Brexit is going to be and all they seem to be saying publicly is "Brexit means Brexit" which is, you know, a tautology. Did you get any sense from this Government about what they hope to get from Brexit, what kind of deal they're hoping to make?

STEVEN CIOBO: It's still relatively early days. To be fair, it hasn't actually been that long since the referendum took place and, of course, since the reshuffle here in UK, so in many respects I think they're still working diligently and looking at what that might look like as the UK goes about formally exiting the EU. We did have conversations about some of the options available to the UK and what those might entail and what they might canvass. Ultimately, that's the domain of the Brits obviously, they'll make those decisions and determine what suits them, but we're going to work alongside them as a partner, given our strong historical ties and given the strong political alignment between their values and ours, as well as their desire to make sure that trade investment is front and centre like Australia's.

JOURNALIST: Of those options, can you say what some of them might be and whether Australia would like to push the UK down a particular path?

STEVEN CIOBO: No, I think those questions are probably best answered by the UK themselves. There are various political figures who will be in a position to give their view rather than have it translated through me.

JOURNALIST: What about Australian ---

JOURNALIST: Sorry, just to finish off this one. For instance, would you like to see the UK stay in a single market even though it's out of the union?

STEVEN CIOBO: I think from the comments that Prime Minister May made on the weekend it's clear that based on those comments her preference would appear to be that they'd be in a position to negotiate free trade agreements, which I think probably makes a common tariff less likely than likely. They will look at all of those options and make an assessment about what's in the UK's national interests. I'm not going to start lecturing the UK about what they should in that respect. My job is to pursue Australia's national interests on behalf of our country and make sure as much as we can we drive a win-win outcome.

JOURNALIST: I was just going to say, are you getting a sense from Australian businesses that they would prefer one way or another in terms of access to the single market?

STEVEN CIOBO: No. Okay? Great. Thanks, everybody. Thanks for the interest.

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