Sky News, Sunday Agenda

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); President Trump; Labor’s Betrayal of the Free Trade Legacy.
29 January 2017

STEVENCIOBO: Good Morning.

KRISTINAKENEALLY: Trade Minister Steven Ciobo, KristinaKeneally here. On the TPP, let's go straight to it; are you ready to declarethat the Trans Pacific Partnership is stillborn?

STEVENCIOBO: Well the TPP of 12 countries can't progress withoutthe United States. But, as I've been saying now for some time, what we'recurrently doing is having a look at whether or not we can salvage the gainsmade under the TPP, and that would be a case, if we were able to get othercountries to still come on board. There is quite an appetite to do that.Certainly, I've had conversations with Canada, with Mexico, with Japan, withSingapore, with Malaysia and New Zealand, and there's a big appetite, as Isaid, to hang on to those gains, so we've just got to see how that plays outover the weeks and months ahead, Kristina.

KRISTINAKENEALLY: So in Parliament, when it returns, anyratification plans for the TPP, or is the Government going to drop those?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well let's be focused on what it is we're trying todo. What we want to do is make sure we give Australian workers the very bestpossible opportunity. And the way that we do that, Kristina, is by making surethat we are focused on driving export markets. Now if we're able to keep inplace a TPP of, let's call it 12 minus one, because the United States is out,then that's putting into effect a good trade relationship between Australia andCanada, Australia and Mexico, countries that we don't have a free tradeagreement with. So I want to make sure that we keep all our options open. Andfrankly, the worst thing we can do is turn our back on trade, turn our back onpotential export markets like Canada and Mexico, which is why I won't beadopting Labor's position, cause their position is to bury their head in thesand.

PAUL KELLY: May Ijust clarify Minister, in terms of your talks with other countries who are partof the TPP, is it their view that we can essentially salvage pretty much theexisting trade deal minus the United States.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well Paul, we haven't got into that level ofdetail. Clearly, there are aspects about the TPP with the United States in thatwould need to change with the United States out. One of them is the actualformulation in terms of giving effect to the TPP deal itself. But I think themore important issue here, Paul, is whether or not we can salvage the gainsthat were made. Take, for example, Australia's small to medium sizedbusinesses. These guys need these kinds of regional trade deals to reduce thecost of compliance. They need them to get a consistency of rules when it comesto trading across the region. Now, we don't want to lose that. It doesn'treally make a big difference to big business, because big business can hire awhole cadre of lawyers and others. But for SMEs, for those that power theAustralian economy, we need to make it as easy as possible for them to trade.Those are the kinds of benefits that I'm speaking about when I say we want tohold onto them.

PAUL KELLY: Essentially, as far as you're concerned, do you think that the main newtrade arrangement is going to be the Chinese initiative, the ComprehensiveRegional (Economic) Partnership, or is your view that we shouldn't look at thatas the main regional relationship, we should try and build upon what's leftover from the TPP. What's the core way Australia would approach this?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the fact is Paul, that when it comes toAustralia's trade relationships, I'm pursuing a number of different approaches.One is multilateral, another is plurilateral, and the third is bilateral. I'mnot going to put all of my eggs in one basket as Australia's Trade, Tourism andInvestment Minister. I want to make sure that we're able to generate as much aspossible the best outcome for Australian exporters, which means the bestoutcome for Australian workers, and Australian wages as we possibly can. Now,doing that means, for example as you know, Paul, the pursuit of a bilateralagreement with Indonesia. I announced the recommencement of negotiations onthat last March, and I hoped to conclude that this year. It also means thatwe're actively participating in an ambitious negotiation around the RegionalComprehensive Economic Partnership, which as you correctly identify, includesboth India and China. But I'm also going to continue to do the work required tosee if we can maintain the gains that were achieved under the TPP agreement,but give it effect through 11 other countries, or whatever the final numbermight end up being, even though it might not include the United States.

PAUL KELLY: We knowthat Donald Trump is talking about putting import duties on imports from China,that he's alarmed about those countries in Asia, led by China, but includingother countries that run a trade surplus with the United States, and there's apossibility that he'll impose import duties on goods from those countries aswell. Now, have we at all made it clear to the Trump Administration that wethink such proposed actions would be highly counterproductive for Asia-Pacifictrade?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, certainly my advocacy, the Prime Minister'sadvocacy, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's advocacy, has been about the realsignificant importance of maintaining open and free trade as much as possible.We do, through all levels of engagement, between the Australian Government, andthe US Government – I'm talking about on an official's level, I'm talking abouton an ambassadorial level, I'm speaking about an elected prime minister toelected president. I've had conversations about our view, about why the United Statesneeds to remain engaged with trade, needs to remain engaged with Asia, and thebenefits that will cascade from that.

PAUL KELLY: Howconcerned, do you think, are Asian countries about what Trump might do? If hedoes this, this is going to be very detrimental to global trade and verydetrimental to Asian-Pacific trade. How deep do you think the concern is in theregion about this?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, Paul look, I'm loathed to be a commentator,but what I will share with you is some of the discussions that I've had asAustralia's Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister with some of mycounterparts. Last week I had the opportunity at a meeting of the World TradeOrganization among trade ministers to canvas what our prognosis was in terms oftrade in the future. There is a high level of commitment among all of us tomake sure that we can continue to grow international trade because we allrecognise that trade and growth in trade is crucial for driving economicgrowth, which is crucial to getting people back into employment. Not only inAustralia, but for all countries that are concerned. So I think that consensusview was put loud and clear. It's a consensus that really speaks, I believe,volumes about where the world sees the future. And that includes Australia'smajor trading partners like, for example, Japan, China, and Korea.

PETER VANONSELEN: Minister, I don't understand specifically onthe TPP why the Government is so wedded to the terminology of it beingconstructed as exactly that. Because as far as I can tell the design of the TPPis anchored around the United States. The United States is to the TPP what thesun is to our solar system. You take it out and whatever else gets created itain't the same thing. Why not just acknowledge that the TPP is dead, but ofcourse the Government is pursuing a new trade deal of a completely differentstructure, if you like, with the nations and possibly new nations that whereinvolved in the TPP? It's been designed around the US so you can't just takethem out and replace it.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that's not actually correct Peter. The factis that the TPP negotiations commenced before the United States got involved.The United States actually wasn't one of the first countries that was involvedin TPP negotiations. I understand the point you go to with respect to the TPPcoming into effect that I made that point earlier in our discussion thismorning. But make no mistake there is like any plurilateral deal like anyregional agreement. There are multiple countries involved. Each have theirstrengths. Each have their areas of defence. And Australia's no different tothat. We've got offensive interests. We've got defensive interests. We broughtall of that to the table in these negotiations. But look we need to still itdown to the basic elements that I touched upon. What we're focused on isretaining as much as we possibly can. The gains that we agreed, we don't wantto lose those. It would be a shame to lose those because the only people thatwould be - I shouldn't say the only people - the people that would be worse offif we do lose those gains, Peter, would be every Australian business that'seither an exporter now or wanting to become an exporter. Because ultimatelythat impacts on our ability to achieve economic growth and job creation.

KRISTINAKENEALLY: So unless the United States and Japanratify the TPP it doesn't come into effect. It sounds like you're still goingto push ahead in Parliament to ratify the TPP here in Australia. But how wouldthat trade deal with the existing countries benefit Australians? Are youlooking, for example, to bring China into the TPP then?

STEVEN CIOBO: I think you're getting a little caught up on whatwe do with the legislation. I've made it the point repeatedly this morning thatwhat I want to do is make sure we hold onto the gains. Holding onto the gainsmeans maintaining flexibility in terms of our position. I understand you'reinteresting in that, but my focus is upon the actual, practical impact of anagreement like the TPP which is those gains that I've spoken about. What I willsay is this though, Kristina, I think the worst thing that the Parliament coulddo would be to actually adopt Labor's position and this is the reason why. Ifwe adopted Labor's position and Bill Shorten himself has said look walk awayfrom the TPP, it's a dead duck. We would be effectively saying 'well look,we've got a hurdle that we need to overcome now. That is too big a hurdle sowe're not going to worry about trying to engage in those benefits or hold on tothose benefits.' The consequence of that is less trade, less economic growth,and fewer jobs for Australians. I'm not prepared to tolerate or accept that asan outcome because it requires a bit of hard work now.

PAUL KELLY: Surelyyou're not going to put to the Parliament ratification of the TPP if you don'thave the numbers? I mean, surely that would be an absurd thing to do.

STEVEN CIOBO: And this is precisely the reason why, Paul, we mustmake sure that the Labor Party frankly has a bit more spine when it comes totrade. For Bill Shorten to walk away from the trade legacy of Bob Hawke and PaulKeating –

PAUL KELLY: Minister,you haven't answered the question. Minister, Minister, you haven't answered thequestion, I understand the point you're going to make about the Labor Party.The question is, will the Government propose the Parliament ratify the TPP evenif you don't have the numbers?

STEVEN CIOBO: I'm making the point and I am answering thequestion very directly. The fact is that when it comes to the Senate, forexample, there's no issue with respect to numbers if the Labor Party's on board.No issue whatsoever. With the greatest respect, I'm very directly answeringyour question when I say that the position that Bill Shorten is being anadvocate for, and I note for example, that Labor are refusing to say whetherthey will or will not back the legislation, because this is consistentunfortunately with Bill Shorten's efforts, which is to talk out of both sidesof his mouth on these agreements. I mean, Labor has form on this. We saw thiswith the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. They kept saying no, we don'tlike it. They effectively condoned a massive campaign of misinformation fromAustralia's Trade Union Movement, which was running on programmes and showslike Sky News and then at one minute to midnight they suddenly did this about-faceand pivot and said they agreed with the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement.So I'm just going to maintain pressure on Labor to do the responsible thing.

PETER VANONSELEN: Okay, so you won't put it to the Parliament toratify it until you find out from Labor whether they'll support it or not?

STEVEN CIOBO: I'm going to maintain maximum flexibility. That'sin Australia's national interest. I would love for the Labor Party to saywhether or not they're going to walk away from the legacy, as I said, of Hawkeand Keating, their commitment to free trade or whether they're just going to berank opportunists like Bill Shorten apparently seems to be indicating is nowthe case for the Labor Party, turning their backs on the thousands andthousands of jobs that rely on our export industries to sustain them here inAustralia. Ultimately we need to know what the Labor Party's intentions arehere, because frankly I'm very concerned that Labor is walking away from tradewhich is in Australia's national interest.

PETER VANONSELEN: What do you think about Tony Abbott's ideathat something needs to be structurally changed to stop the obstructionism ofthe Senate? My colleague here, Paul Kelly, had a conversation with Tony Abbottabout that and I believe he's doing a speech in a matter of days on this issue.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well I haven't seen the remarks other than some ofthe media reports that I've read, obviously while I've been abroad. From myperspective, it is frustrating that we find the Senate being obstructionistsfrom time to time and we do see that the Senate does not respect the mandatethat an elected government has had. That notwithstanding though, the fact isthat under this Prime Minister and this Government, we have been able to securepassage of key legislation through the Australian Parliament. We've workedconstructively and engaged in a meaningful way with the Crossbench because as agovernment, we of course, respect the different points of view, but of coursethere are still frustrations there from time to time.

PAUL KELLY: Minister,to what extent do you think the debate for free trade is being lost in thiscountry? I mean, we know that the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Party, PaulineHanson's One Nation, much of the welfare lobby, all of the union movement arenow completely committed to protection and there seems to be signs ofprotectionism inside both the Labor Party and sections of the government. Isthis quest for free trade being lost domestically in Australia?

PETER VANONSELEN: And how does it feel being the Trade Ministerat the time that free trade is slowly dying in this country?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'm going to continue to be a very strongadvocate around the benefits of liberalised trade and the reason why isbecause, and it's not solely because of this reason, but it is a large part ofthe reason, Australia has enjoyed 26 years of continuous economic growthbecause we've been willing to engage with the world. I mean, if you want totake it to its extreme, look at the difference between a country that shutsitself off from the rest of the world, a country like North Korea, versus acountry that engages with the world, a country like South Korea. Look at whatSingapore's been able to achieve. Look at the way in which you've seentremendous growth in countries like China, who are opening themselves up totrade and to investment and compare and contrast that with some older economieswhich are shutting themselves off and trying to protect their industries. Thefact is that protectionism does absolutely nothing except consign your countryto lower living standards in the future, to fewer job opportunities and to amore impoverished future generation.

KRISTINAKENEALLY: Minister, your colleague TreasurerScott Morrison's in the United Kingdom. On Wednesday he described theGovernment's agenda as, 'Australia first'. What does he mean by that?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, it's apoint that I've made before in response to questions around what the UnitedStates President means. It simply means that we put Australia's national interestfirst and that's what I do every day as Australia's Trade, Tourism andInvestment Minister, it's what the Government does. We are focused on what isthe best possible outcome that we can achieve for all Australians and thatapplies across the board when it comes to policy.

KRISTINAKENEALLY: When President Trump uses the term'America first', he uses it to meant protectionism, he uses it to mean tariffs,he uses it to mean you're made in America by Americans. What does it mean in anAustralian context?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, as Isaid, at the risk of repeating myself, Kristina, means that we put Australia'snational interest first.

KRISTINAKENEALLY: But surely you can unpack that?

STEVEN CIOBO: Our nationalinterest is well served by ...

KRISTINA KENEALLY: Surely you can unpack that. TheTreasurer of the country is overseas arguing that his economic agenda is'Australia first'. You're arguing free trade, you're arguing againstprotectionism, so what does the Treasurer mean when he talks about 'Australiafirst'?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, let'stake an example. Let's talk about, for example, the steel industry. We haddiscussions in relation to Arrium. I made the point in the past, Kristina, thatthere's a very large number of jobs, thousands and thousands of jobs inAustralia's iron ore export industry that rely on us being able to extract andship that iron ore for steel production. Now a large percentage of that ironore ends up in China. So when people turn around and I've heard this argumentput forward by some who say, 'Look, we should shut down steel imports. Weshould only allow Australian steel to be used on all things'. The fact is thatthe people that put forward that suggestion to protect, for example, a businesslike Arrium, would in fact mean that all of those thousands of jobs in our ironore export industry would be lost as a consequence. Now what we need to do isget that balance right between making sure that we have a strong, vibrantmanufacturing industry and the Government's done that. Look at what we've done,for example, with our submarine contracts. But also making sure that we keepopen export markets for our country to make sure we keep jobs here forexporters.

PETER VANONSELEN: Let me ask you before we run out of time onthis connection, Steve Ciobo, I want to get your reaction to something that'sgoing on over there as we speak in the US, those executive orders that DonaldTrump has signed that has resulted in bans on refugees, or even Muslimimmigration it would seem, from particular countries. Now it's particularcountries where the President has put a ban in place, but they are Muslimmajority countries. What's your take on that?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, lookthe US President is delivering upon the commitments that he took to theAmerican people in the last election. I don't think –

PETER VANONSELEN: Would you like to see Australia do the same?

STEVEN CIOBO: No, I certainly don't. That's not the position thatI support. I think that it's not a position that most Australians wouldsupport. Australians, I believe, fundamentally want to know that as a countrywe're going to be safe. They want to know that we are not going to allowterrorists into Australia and this Government has made sure that we've done acouple of things. One, and most importantly, we have stopped the boats whichpotentially was a back doorway for people of unknown origin, and who knows whatlinkages they had, to come into the country. So we've succeeded in stoppingthat avenue which now means that we're able to much more rigour and focus onthose people that are applying to come to Australia as refugees.

KRISTINAKENEALLY: On a related question, Donald Trumpalso signed an executive order this week to put in place a global gag rule,that is banning foreign aid from going to organisations that provide anyservices related to abortion, including counselling. Now, Australia had thissimilar rule in place during the Howard years and only came off in Kevin Rudd'sfirst term, does the Government have any plans to reintroduce such a rule inrelation to its foreign aid?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, youneed to direct that question to the relevant minister. Obviously, as TradeMinister that's not something within my portfolio and it's not something thatI've been privy to in terms of-

KRISTINAKENEALLY: Sure, I understand that. You werehowever the Minister responsible for the Pacific prior to this role, what wouldyour view be of the impact of such a rule?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that'sa different question you've asked me Kristina you've asked me my personal viewversus the Government's view and so to be clear on that...

KRISTINAKENEALLY: Your personal view based on yourexperience.

STEVEN CIOBO: Yeah, interms of my personal view, look I think that we've got a very effective aidprogramme. I think that there are a number of reasons why women would take thedecision to have a termination and I think that we need to be very respectfulthat we don't command certain things from on high. I bring a sense of whatgreat work our aid agencies do in helping change the lives of people abroad,especially in the Pacific, where of course, we have the bulk of our aidfocused, but ultimately, this is something that if it was to come up, theCabinet would consider and the Government could take a decision on.

PAUL KELLY: Minister,given the recent time you've had in America and the talks you've had, are youconfident that Australia will be able to influence the Trump Administration onissues concerning our national interest?

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, Paul,I think we maintain a very good relationship with the United States. Obviously,there's a relationship there that goes back many, many decades, a relationshipthat sees Australia and the United States having one of the closest friendshipsthat exists and that has continued under different political leaders, both onthe Australian side and on the US side. I'm confident and I've had manyconversations with our Ambassador, Joe Hockey, who frankly, has doneoutstanding work at maintaining open doors with the new Trump Administration.I'm very confident that we'll continue to receive a very good ear from the newTrump Administration.

PAUL KELLY: Wellgiven that we've made such outstanding efforts and given your confidence, canwe therefore be pretty confident that President Trump will honour PresidentObama's commitment to the Turnbull Government on refugee policy from thedetention centres?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well Ihaven't seen anything, nor have I heard any conversations that would indicateotherwise.

PAUL KELLY: So you'reconfident?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well as Isaid, I haven't seen or heard anything that would indicate that there's been achange of policy in that respect, so –

PAUL KELLY: Are youconfident?

STEVEN CIOBO: ... whatultimately the US has to say –

PAUL KELLY: I mean,you just told us things are terrific. You've just told us things are terrific,we've got all the influence we used to have, so presumably you're confident onthis front. Are you?

STEVEN CIOBO: Paul, Ithink we're getting into word games. What I said is I'm very confident that wewill continue to receive a good ear from the US Administration, but if you wantme to crystal ball gaze what the US President's going to do, I'm afraid that'snot my core business.

PETER VANONSELEN: But surely you agree that a new dawn is uponus under President Donald Trump, it's not that Australia necessarily has anyless influence than any other country does over Donald Trump, but surely wehave less influence over a Trump Administration than previous presidentialadministrations with the way that he's looking to run things - 'America First'.

STEVEN CIOBO: Well I don'tnecessarily agree with your assertion there, Peter. The fact is that, as Isaid, Australia has maintained over many decades a very warm and constructiverelationship with the United States. I do not see that changing and in fact,reports that I've had back from a number of different parties, both throughbusiness, as well as at a political level, would indicate to me that Australiais still highly regarded under the Trump Administration. I'm very confidentthat we'll continue to engage very constructively. We share a similar outlookand in fact, there's been quite a lot of commentary from key agents of theTrump Administration that has indicated the value and importance that theyplace upon key relationships with countries that are allies of the UnitedStates. So I think that there is quite a lot of commentary that would tend toindicate that our position remains strong and that we'll continue to workalongside each other.

PETER VANONSELEN: Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo, we appreciate you finding the time to talkto us while you're over there on your travels in LA. Thanks very much for beingwith us.

STEVEN CIOBO: My pleasure.Thanks.

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