Doorstop interview

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Steel and aluminium tariffs, TPP-11.
Gold Coast
11 March 2018

STEVEN CIOBO: We've got a great outcome with the Prime Minister confirming with the US President that Australia will be exempt from the steel and aluminium tariffs. This is great news for Australia and it reinforces the strength of the bond between Australia and the United States. The fact that we will not have the imposition of these tariffs on Australian exports is good news for Australian jobs and it's good news for Australian investment abroad.

Also, I'm very pleased that we've now signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership – the TPP-11 as it's called. The TPP will in fact be more great news for Australian exporters, especially small to medium sized exporters. This is going to see 98 per cent of all goods and items and services having removal of tariffs, the ability to boost services exports as well to drive investment. This is part of the government's ongoing commitment to opening up export opportunities for Australian businesses and we open up export opportunities because it drives economic growth and it drives jobs.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister, could you please tell us how much of a bullet have we dodged in terms of winning this agreement with the White House? How bad would Australian exposure to those tariffs have been?

STEVEN CIOBO: The United States is our third largest trading partner. The value of steel and aluminium that we export is worth more than $500 million. And there's a lot of jobs that rely on this as well. So, making sure that the United States and Australia continue to enjoy this strong bond, which means that we don't have tariffs imposed on our exports is good news for our economy, it's good news for jobs. And so that's been critical to making sure that under the Coalition we have Australia's national interest well served.

JOURNALIST: Minister, we're now seeing argy-bargy between the European Union and the US, among others, over these. What's your judgement, or what's your fear in terms of the risk of a broader trade war and Australia getting slugged in that anyway?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the trade environment is going to get tougher. We're in choppy trade waters now. It's going to get harder over the next year or two. And now is the time when we need to have a safe pair of hands when it comes to Australia's trade policy. Trade matters and the reason trade matters is because it drives economic growth and it drives jobs. We cannot afford to risk Bill Shorten and Labor, which get all of the big trade calls wrong. They wanted to walk away from the TPP-11. They didn't want to do the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. These have been major agreements that drive our economy, drive jobs and it just shows that Labor gets these calls consistently wrong.

JOURNALIST: Is there a danger of a trade war globally at the moment, perhaps between the European Union and the US particularly and Australia copping some damage as a result?

STEVEN CIOBO: We are in choppy trade waters. We need to make sure that we have a safe pair of hands to help steward Australia's trading environment. And that's part of the reason why the Coalition has the most active trade agenda that Australia has ever sought. It's because we want to diversify our trade interests. We want to make sure that we can keep it as calm and still as possible, because if we do that and if we have diversified trade interests and that we can continue to drive exports from Australia, that will keep our economy strong and that will keep jobs strong for Australians as well.

JOURNALIST: Minister, the President has talked of a special security agreement with Australia as part of the deal for us to avoid these tariffs. What's he talking about?

STEVEN CIOBO: The President's Tweet about security arrangements is simply a shorthand phrase for the paperwork that's got to be done. I've seen some crazy theories about what this might mean in a range of different areas; none of that is accurate. The fact is this is just about the paperwork around the proclamation from the President to make sure that Australia is exempt from these steel and aluminium tariffs.

JOURNALIST: If you were a trade minister in a country who was not getting an exemption like Australia is, you'd be pretty peeved wouldn't you? I mean doesn't Australia's, Mexico's and Canada's exemptions just heighten the potential for anger elsewhere around the world?

STEVEN CIOBO: My job is to make sure that I stand up for Australia's national interest. That's precisely the reason why the Coalition has been focusing on opening export opportunities through the TPP-11, through new deals with Peru, through the work that we're doing with Singapore as well as now with the United States. This is all about making sure that Australian exporters are well placed, our economy can grow and we can create jobs. If other countries want to emulate the success that Australia's enjoying, then I encourage them to do that. I mean we've seen countries working together to promote trade. We just did it now with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is 11 countries working together to drive economic growth, to drive jobs. So it just reinforces that we can achieve some great outcomes if we pull in the same direction.

JOURNALIST: Minister, my last question. Apparently, Mr Turnbull won an agreement with the US President last year to ensure Australia would not be exposed to these tariffs. How much of the fact that Australia has won this deal is down to Malcolm Turnbull's negotiation last year at that stage?

STEVEN CIOBO: The announcement by the President that Australia will be exempt on steel and aluminium tariffs is the culmination of nearly a year worth of work. When the Section 232 investigation was first announced in June last year, I shot straight away to the United States to start the campaign. This has been an ongoing campaign. It's involved advocacy from myself, the Defence Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister and business entities. All of us, working to make sure that we are relentless about protecting Australia's national interest.

JOURNALIST: Can you promise Australia offered nothing extra in return for the exemption?

STEVEN CIOBO: The announcement that's made is about now giving affect to the paperwork that will see Australia exempt from these steel and aluminium tariffs – that's all. I've seen lots of, some of them far fetched theories about that this may mean. They're all inaccurate. This is about Australia and the United States continuing with our strong trade and investment framework and that's what we're focused on doing.

JOURNALIST: So can you guarantee that you offered nothing extra?

STEVEN CIOBO: I couldn't be more clear. This is about making sure that we give legal affect to the President's proclamation with respect to the exemption that Australia enjoys and that's it.

JOURNALIST: In Australia's dealings with the US, did you caution against tariffs on steal and aluminium?

STEVEN CIOBO: I've been consistent about arguing and being a strong advocate about why liberalised trade and investment is good. I do it all around the world as part of Australia standing its ground and being a beacon for the promotion of trade and investment, because we know that more trade means more economic growth and more economic growth means more jobs.

Media enquiries