Quest Means Business, CNN

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: TPP, Australia's trade agenda and economy.
26 January 2018

RICHARD QUEST: The other 11 countries didn't waste any time, they agreed this week that they'll go ahead with what they're calling a "Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement" for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP. Catchy title. Australia is one of them, and its Trade Minister joins me now, Steven Ciobo joins me. Minister, good to see you.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good to be with you.

RICHARD QUEST: So, your thoughts? I mean, obviously you would welcome the US back into what is now the CPTPP, but are you prepared to offer them a better deal?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we all, I think, collectively, want the United States back in, that's precisely the reason why we're negotiating the TPP, to make it a TPP-11. We've simply suspended the provisions that were materially important to the United States. So, Australia, Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, we all want the U.S. back at the table, let's try to make it happen.

RICHARD QUEST: But Singapore said, and you said, that there could be no wholesale renegotiation of the TPP and effectively, that's what happened, there has been -.


RICHARD QUEST: You basically put a few knobs on, taken some things out, and twisted, and it slightly got-

STEVEN CIOBO: And a new name.

RICHARD QUEST: Yes, catchy, whoever came up with that one. But the point is how far do you think you and the other countries would go to accommodate a US seeking a better deal?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, we have had very slight renegotiation. We've now got the TPP-11, so we have $13.7 trillion worth of global economic activity at the table. We've gotten agreement; we hope to sign in early March. I can't see wholesale change to that, in order to accommodate the Americans. That's not to say that the eleven us couldn't get together, work out how we can address some of the US concerns, in order to bring the US back to the table, because we want them. We want the US back, but we need to be realistic about what can be achieved.

RICHARD QUEST: And to that end, that's the difficult part isn't it? Because there's a great bonanza for you all if you manage to do it, but you can't be seen to overturn what you agreed. That would be devastating for your electorates.

STEVEN CIOBO: It would be hard, too-


STEVEN CIOBO: We'd be going back on what we settled.


STEVEN CIOBO: And as you know, with a multilateral, well, plurilateral trade deal like this, if you start unstitching, it's hard.

RICHARD QUEST: Minister, bilateral versus multilateral, the President says tonight he's in favour of bilateral deals, but as far as that goes, other leaders, your own Prime Minister says, multilateral is a preferred option. So, again, where's the meeting of minds on this?

STEVEN CIOBO: You know, Australia is a pretty pragmatic place.

RICHARD QUEST: Absolutely.

STEVEN CIOBO: We adopt multilateralism where we can, plurilateralism and bilateralism. So, right now, we've got the most active trade agenda in Australia's history. We've got trade negotiations either underway or about to commence with Indonesia, Hong Kong, Mexico, we've also got the UK, European Union, India, so it's a big deal. My point is that, in terms of the United States, if I was the biggest gorilla in the room, I'd want the deal to be bilateral too.

RICHARD QUEST: Right, now that's –

STEVEN CIOBO: But we all know that. We all know the deal and we think there's more to be gained from working together for a good outcome.

RICHARD QUEST: Brexit and, you just mentioned it, you deal with the UK, I mean you've got to try and get as close as you can without, of course, breaching the European rules for the Commission and yet, at the same time, there could be this two-year transitional. So, how close would you like to get during that two years?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, in many respects we will work to the UK's tempo. The UK is currently, of course, right in the centre of trying to negotiate their exit from the EU. I have a great working relationship with the May Government, particularly Liam Fox, my counterpart. So, we'll work to their tempo to a certain extent. We're having preliminary discussions; we're the first country where the UK said they'd form a working group with. We want to conclude as quickly as possible, once they formally exit the EU, but how long precisely that will be, we'll have to see.

RICHARD QUEST: But do you imagine you could get something done, ready to go, during the transitional period?

STEVEN CIOBO: No, because the UK have said repeatedly they cannot commence negotiations until such time as they formally exit the EU.

RICHARD QUEST: Choose a colour, Minister.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'm going to go blue.

RICHARD QUEST: Everyone's choosing blue tonight.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, it's the colour of Australia: blue seas, blue sky, all that sort of thing.

RICHARD QUEST: If you say so.

STEVEN CIOBO: I'm Tourism Minister so-

RICHARD QUEST: Where are you? How fractured are we? Not, middle ground, very fractured.

STEVEN CIOBO: I see, in our part of the world, we continue to see countries come closer together, notwithstanding some tensions around North Korea, so I'm going to put us on this side, around about here somewhere.

RICHARD QUEST: Very nice. And the arrow going better or worse? Better or worse?

STEVEN CIOBO: I think we're trending... I'll just put a small arrow of trending over there.

RICHARD QUEST: And the economy of Australia continues extraordinary robust growth over these years, hasn't it?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, not by luck, we're in our 27th year of continuous economic growth, a new record for a developed economy, but we have been committed to not only domestic economic reform, but also opening up trade opportunities.

RICHARD QUEST: Good to see you, thank you very much indeed.

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