UK Doorstop

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subject: Aus UK FTA, US tariffs, Australian Cricket.
26 March 2018

JOURNALIST: Do you want to start by just talking about the meeting, what you discussed, whether any concrete events came out of it?

STEVEN CIOBO: Sure. Australia and the UK continue to have really constructive discussions, as you know, it's the aspiration for both Australia and the UK to be able to move to a high quality comprehensive free trade agreement between us, once the UK formally exits the EU. Today was another opportunity to continue down that pathway. Secretary Fox and I have got an excellent working relationship. We work closely together, and there's a lot happening in the trade space clearly at this point in time as well, so it's very important that we have regular dialogue, that we discuss where the opportunities lay on a bilateral basis, but also on some of the global challenges that we have, so another very important discussion. What we see is strong alignments in terms of the desire for both Australia and the UK on a bilateral FTA. What we want to do is grow trade and investment between Australia and the UK. If we grow trade and investment, we grow the economy, and we grow jobs.

JOURNALIST: Did you talk about the protectionist instincts on the other side of the channel in the White House, what you might be able to do together to try and counter that?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, it's clear that there are some voices that are not as embracing of free trade as others, but there's nothing new about. That's been the context of a lot of political debate over a long period of time. For the UK and for Australia, it's an opportunity for us to speak about how we share our common interest in helping to promote more trade, helping to promote more investment, and enjoying the dividend that flows from that. The dividend which the people recognise comes from the fact that more trade and more investment means higher levels of economic growth and more job opportunities.

JOURNALIST: Did he ask you for tips on how to get a tariff exemption out of Donald Trump?

STEVEN CIOBO: We had the opportunity to talk about the Section 232 investigation in the US and the proposed outcomes, but to be honest, the focus of our discussion was the bilateral relationship between Australia and the UK.

JOURNALIST: We've heard a bit now about these broad discussions that are going on, but for Australian consumers at home, what does it actually look like to them when they have FTA in place in the supermarket, at the workplace, what is it going to look like?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the discussions have been ongoing with the UK for a while now because it's been some shifting sands, slow shifting sands are really driven by some of the considerations the UK has with the European Union as the Brexit process happens. These regular dialogues mean that we're able to maintain a current view about where things are going. Obviously there's more clarity now with the interim period coming in between the UK and the EU. For Aussies back at home, once we conclude, and I'm very confident we will. Once we conclude a high quality trade deal between Australia and the UK, it will mean that there are obviously advantages. Advantages that come from opening up a market like the UK for more export opportunities, advantages that come from lowering the business input costs into Australia from the UK. It means more consumer choice. It means better pricing for consumers. It means we have more opportunity as I have said to grow our respective economies and to create jobs off the back of that.

JOURNALIST: Is there any specific sector (inaudible).

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, we haven't even commenced negotiations yet, so I'm not going to be nominating winners or losers or any of those types of things that I know is often the focus that people have. The principle remains sound, though, which is that when you have lower barriers to trade investment, you get more of that activity happening, and more activity means more economic growth and it means more jobs.

JOURNALIST: Minister would you be confident in securing that deal in that transition period so once you're allowed to trade freely with the UK that will actually happen on day one?

STEVEN CIOBO: The aspiration between both Australia and the UK is that we will commence negotiations basically on day one of the commencement of the interim period with the view to having a high quality, comprehensive free trade agreement between us ready to go essentially on the first of January 2021 so that that way we have a seamless transition from UK being part of the EU and then when the UK sits outside of the EU for us to have that relationship.

JOURNALIST: In the wake of the Sergei Skripal poisoning, the UK is looking at cracking down on inward investment, particularly from your Russian oligarchs, people linked to human rights abuses. Do you think that Australia has an international duty to also look at introducing (inaudiable).

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'll leave most of this commentary to the Foreign Minister. Obviously, it's the Foreign Minister's portfolio, but certainly from Australia's perspective, we have a range of sanctions that we've applied. We operate obviously very closely, especially with Five Eyes countries, and we've been very concerned at what we've seen take place here in the UK, but further commentary on that I'll leave to the Foreign Minister – it's her portfolio.

JOURNALIST: Can I have your view on ball tampering?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, look, I mean like, basically all other Australians, what's taken place is inexcusable. Of course, due process needs to happen and it's appropriate that Cricket Australia has indicated they're going to pursue due process in this regard, but, look, this does leave a stain on Australia's reputation with respect to cricket. And we need to be mindful of that. It's very important that we see decisive action taken by Cricket Australia. It's very important that we move quickly to improve our standing again, because these types of character taints unfortunately do tend to stick around.

JOURNALIST: Was that discussed in the meeting today?

STEVEN CIOBO: We had a very light-hearted reference to it, notwithstanding the seriousness of the allegations.

JOURNALIST: What did Secretary Fox say?

STEVEN CIOBO: I'm not going to get into it, but you know, the great thing about Australia and the UK is of course we're both great sporting nations. We stand here on the cusp of the commencement of the Commonwealth Games, so there'll be opportunities for all of us to enjoy a little bit of that comradery and sporting competition when the Comm Games start on April the 4th.

JOURNALIST: How did you respond, because we need a few tips living here?

STEVEN CIOBO: In what respect?

JOURNALIST: Dealing with the ball tampering and the cheating allegations.

STEVEN CIOBO: Look, as I said, notwithstanding it has been the butt of a number of jokes, but the fact does remain that this actually does go to reputational injury, and we need to be mindful of that, we need to take that seriously. Cricket Australia, I do believe, recognises that and so they're going to take, after they've undertaken due process, I'm sure that they're going to take the appropriate action.

JOURNALIST: Can I just go back to US for one second? How confident are you that Australia is going to continue to get an exemption beyond that May 1st and what steps are you taking to ensure (inaudible)?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well, the Prime Minister and the President spoke a week or two ago. They had the opportunity to reach an agreement that Australia would be exempted from those steel and aluminium tariffs. That is the agreement going forward and we firmly believe as the Prime Minister has expressed on a number of occasions now that that agreement will be upheld.

JOURNALIST: On what basis?

STEVEN CIOBO: The agreement that was discussed and reached between the Prime Minister and the President. That's the basis of the view.

JOURNALIST: So it's not going to expire in May?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well there's the instrument, that is the proclamation. That of course is a manifestation of the discussion that's had, but you'd also recognise that that embraces a number of countries. If you go back to some of the commentary that we've seen from, for example, Mr. Navarro, spoke about the US wanting there to be a strong focus on reciprocity of trade, on the trading relationship generally, while as the Prime Minister and I have indicated on multiple occasions, Australia runs a trade deficit with the United States. There are not tariffs on US goods coming into Australia, for example. We've got a broad and deep trade and investment relationship. It would be hard to envisage any other relationship that could be more reciprocal or more fair than the one between Australia and the United States, so on that basis it's logical to obviously be able to have anchored in that agreement between the Prime Minister and the President the view that this agreement will be upheld.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) update on the EU free trade agreement, and with it, your deal with the British is impacting in any way on any current negotiations?

STEVEN CIOBO: Discussions with the UK are entirely separate to discussions with the EU. Sometimes the mistake is made to view these things as being in conflict or being in competition but it is certainly not the case. Trade deals by their very nature mean that you have multiple conversations going on at any one point in time. That is the case today. Certainly, discussions with the EU are more advanced than they are with the UK. That's just a function of time. We started the process earlier with the EU. Now, in terms of where we sit now? We're waiting for the EU to complete their internal discussions and processes to have a mandate to commence negotiations. Australia is ready to commence. I'm hopeful that we will be able to commence negotiations before the middle of this year, but we need to let the EU process work its way through.

JOURNALIST: Which do you reckon will get signed first: the UK or the EU?

STEVEN CIOBO: I'm not going to bother getting into that. What I look for is not speed or a race, what I'm looking for is a high quality, comprehensive deal that's good for Australia, that's good for the other country or countries involved. They're the kinds of high quality consumer-focused win-win outcomes that really lay at the core of what is Australia's biggest trade agenda, which I'm pursuing right now. Thanks everyone. Thanks for the interest.

Media enquiries