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  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Citizenship; Australia’s Trade Deals; Nick Greiner.
19 July 2017

PETER VAN ONSELEN: As promised earlier in the afternoon, we're joined now by the Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo. Thanks very much for your company. First question, I suppose has to be about citizenship. You're very sure you haven't got citizenship from another country that you don't know about?

STEVEN CIOBO: I'm 1000 per cent certain.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Your both parents born and raised in Australia? No international links through grandparents?

STEVEN CIOBO: No. As my surname might give away, my father wasn't born in Australia, but I'm still 1000 per cent certain on citizenship.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Did you actually look into it, though, before-

STEVEN CIOBO: Yeah, I did.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Did you look into it before you went into parliament-

STEVEN CIOBO: Of course.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Because it's extraordinary to me that the Greens didn't. The Labor Party have unbelievably strict policies about this through their pre-selection process. What about the Liberal Party?

STEVEN CIOBO: Yeah. It's the same, Peter-


STEVEN CIOBO: I mean, the fact is that it is basically an unforgivable mistake. I mean, the situation where someone wouldn't know they're a dual citizen. I mean, this is one of the basics of any competent political party, to run through these issues. All of us know that it's a constitutional requirement and, frankly, doesn't matter which political party you're in. If you haven't done it, then it's sloppy at the extreme.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Yeah. Yeah. Not a lot sympathy, even if it's unfortunate. Let's move into your portfolio. A lot of talk about upcoming trade deals. You're a fair way into your period as Trade Minister and Andrew Robb got a lot of these deals done very, very quickly, when he became Trade Minister. What's going on? What's happening with India? What's happening with Indonesia, and so forth?

STEVEN CIOBO: Sure. Well, Andrew was able to conclude three FTAs. Of course, we had three agreements with China, Japan, and Korea, which had been under negotiation for quite a period of time. Seven, eight, nine years, respectively. Andrew was able to conclude those and that was part of the Coalition's strong focus, on making sure we're opening up preferential market access for Australian exporters all around the world. In the year and a half that I've been in the portfolio, Peter, I'm happy to say that we have quite a number of FTA negotiations that I've commenced, and I hope to conclude some in the not too distant future, including, of course, my number one priority, which is Indonesia. But by quarter four this year, we'll be in FTA negotiations with Indonesia, with Hong Kong, with Peru, with the Pacific Alliance countries, which are Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico. And, of course, we'll have commenced FTA negotiations with the European Union and have a joint working group with the UK. So that's five that are underway, Peter. So, certainly, no-one could accuse me of being a slouch. Look, what it comes down to is this: as a Government, we are absolutely focused on giving Australian exporters the very best opportunity they can have to be able to take on the world because that's what we know underpins economic growth and drives Australian jobs.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Is it frustrating when you run into trade barriers through protectionism, particularly around, for example, cultural products of countries that you're trying to do free trade deals with? We always call these free trade deals, but in truth, there's so many carve-outs, isn't there, whether you like it or not?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, this really gets down to the quality of the trade deal and I make the point repeatedly that I'm not interested in just doing a deal for the sake of doing a deal. I want to make sure that any trade deals we do are high quality trade deals. Now there will be always be at the margins, some percentage of goods that are exempted. Typically, though, we can achieve 94, 95, 96, sometimes 98 per cent coverage, and that's a great outcome. That's the kind of quality that I'm looking for, in terms of the trade deals that I'm lining up for Australia. So you'll always have some exemptions and, you know, we've got some domestic interests, as well, that we still want to stand by, so that's understandable, but we still want to have a high degree of ambition and aim for a comprehensive trade deal each time we do one.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Sugar farmers, in particular, often feel duded in some of the deals that have done. What kind of respite have you got for them?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, you know, sugar would have to be, unfortunately, one of the toughest sectors of the global trade market that you have to deal with-

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Why is that, can I ask?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Peter, what it comes down to is you've got many sugar farmers in many countries. So governments typically seek to try to protect them, rather than subject them to international sugar prices and all the pros and cons of international competition. Now, in Australia, our sugar farmers are in quite a strong position. They're very efficient and we're able to produce good amounts of sugar, so we're always on the offensive when it comes to sugar interests but, you know, one of the things that I've been most pleased about in the relatively short while that I've been Trade Minister, was the terrific gain that we achieved most recently with Indonesia. We're able to make sure that Australian sugar farmers now are going back into Indonesia because we've pulled down the tariff on Australian sugar, so that, now, Aussie sugar is much more competitively priced in Indonesia. That is going to make a material difference to Australian sugar farmers.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: You mentioned earlier that your number one priority is Indonesia. Why not India? I mean, they're really the emerging economy, they're going to be the China of the future, if you like, and they're a democracy. I mean, they're a free country, not just in terms of capitalism, but in terms of democracy, as well.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, India is a high priority for me, but it takes two to tango. At this point in time, I'm not seeing a willingness from India that would reflect a desire to achieve an FTA, and it goes back to the point I was just making earlier. Good free trade agreements are free trade agreements that are comprehensive and high in ambition. If, for example, we were only able to get 70 or 75 per cent of coverage of products, then that's not a great starting point for negotiations. So, you know, I continue to engage with India. My predecessor, Andrew Robb, was engaging with India, but it's going to be hard work there because precisely for the reason you outlined, Peter, which is it is a democracy. So, in fact, it's the world's biggest democracy, so there's a lot of agricultural interests that India has challenges in terms of trying to liberalise that segment of the market. So it is a key priority, but it's just hard work, so you roll your sleeves up and you keep chipping away.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Has that come as a little bit of a surprise? I don't mean because of lack of due diligence or anything like that, it's not a polemic question, but has it been a disappointment or a bit of a surprise, just how problematic getting a free trade deal with India would turn out to be? I remember talking to Andrew Robb when he was still the Minister and he was giving some sort of KPIs on timelines. I remember thinking at the time, wow, you're ambitious on this. I wonder if there's any truth to that?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, I mean, the reality is you deal with the landscape that you deal with. By that, what I mean, apart from being a statement of the obvious, is that you have to, in any trade deal, you have to deal with the parties on the other side of the fence. Now, I've not lost any time at all, in terms of pursuing our interests. As I said, UK, Europe, Hong Kong, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Indonesia; these are all in the mix. I'm pursing trade deals with each of those countries. I'm still engaging constructively with India on a regular basis, but I'm just not making the headway there that we'd like to see because India is adopting a reasonably protectionist bent when it comes to some of their agricultural products. So we just have to keep chipping away.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Just away from portfolio before I let you go, Minister, you may or may not have heard the comments or read about it the next day in The Australian, by the Federal Liberal President, Nick Greiner about wanting to bring Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull together, and sit down and smoke the peace pipe, so to speak. Do you think that that's a good idea? I suppose, do you think it's a good idea for the Federal President to be flagging that or is there the risk at the moment, with it being a bit of a tinder box, that it could stoke tensions, rather than ease them?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I guess, I'd make two points. The first is that my focus, and indeed the focus of the Government, isn't upon these internal matters, it's about making sure that we're doing what we can do to pursue, on behalf of Australians, what they have elected us to do. Now I want to say that upfront, Peter, because I think it's important that people understand. You know, I'm not getting distracted by this sort of stuff. I want to stay focused on the job that I was elected to do. In terms of some of the internal party stuff, in the same way we see internal wrangling in the Labor Party, or internal wrangling in the Greens, yes, there's aspects that frankly are a little untidy. I think any moves that can help to bed that down are worthwhile, but I'm not going to invest much time and effort on that because my focus is upon doing the job I was elected to do.

PETER VAN ONSELEN: Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo, we appreciate you joining us on News Day. Thanks very much for your company.


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