2GB, Free Trade Agreements


The Hon Steven Ciobo MP

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment

Subjects: Free Trade Agreements with the United Kingdom and European Union; Chinese Investment; Trans-Pacific Partnership

ROSS GREENWOOD: Now, the UK coming out of Europe eventually means that there are more opportunities potentially even for Australia. Our trade minister Steven Ciobo has been in the UK in recent times and I'm going to say he's been incredibly popular there. There's been a range of different interviews that he's done, he's made front page even on the news, 'Booze prices head Down Under - Cheap Australian beer and wine could flood into Britain on the back of a post-Brexit trade deal'. It'll be interesting to see exactly whether it took place and how long it might take. Steven Ciobo, our Trade Minister is on the line right now. Many thanks for your time Steven.

STEVEN CIOBO: Good evening Ross.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Can you just explain to me - you going to the UK so quickly after the election, quite strategic after the Brexit vote. Is there opportunity there for Australia?

STEVEN CIOBO: There certainly is opportunity and I wanted to make sure that Australia's well placed to capitalise upon the opportunities that are created by the Brexit vote. Obviously we've got very strong historical ties between Australia and the UK, we want to make sure that as our trade relationship, our investment relationship continues to mature, that we're well placed to pursue Australia's national interest in a way that's going to ensure Aussies have a great opportunity with respect to exports and investment with the UK.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay so we know that the free trade agreement with China, Japan, South Korea, these are important for us economically because they're such big players. The UK of course is not such a big player these days, but do you believe that there is potential for Australia to have a more important relationship with the UK long-term, or is it really still that southeast Asia is the place where we'll do most business?

STEVEN CIOBO: Well our major trading partners are of course in our Indo-Pacific region and Asia more generally. That's why as a Coalition Government we've put a very strong focus, and what we've been able to do with China, with South Korea and with Japan. We want to build on that. Given the strong ties that we have with the UK, there is opportunity to look at what we can do to drive as comprehensive and commercially meaningful a free trade agreement with the UK as is possible. That includes opportunities around investment. If you look at, for example the UK, they've got a very big financial services marketplace - that's good news for Australia. We know that we like competition in financial services; it produces good outcomes for Aussies. But it's also the chance for Australians to be able to export to the UK. You raised the news article in relation to Aussie wine - we all love Australian wine, and guess what, people around the world love Australian wine. If the Brits are going to be opening a bottle of plonk, Ross, I'd rather they're opening a bottle of Aussie plonk over French plonk.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Yeah, I think that's probably true. We can understand the historic ties that are there. I want to take you to China though, because quite clearly in the wake of the situation in regards to Sam Dastyari having a bill paid for him by a Chinese company that is owned by the Chinese government. It raises, again, serious questions about Australia's genuine commitment to trade with China, and whether we are serious about having a strong relationship where capital comes into this country. Do you believe the politicians and Australians generally have to be very, very careful about just how far they go with, shall I say, the xenophobic push against Chinese interest in Australia for fear ultimately that we may not get the type of investment that the country needs to develop?

STEVEN CIOBO: Ross, let me characterise Australia's relationship with China like this: Australia is very well placed, in fact better placed than most other countries around the world, with respect to our trade and investment relationship with China. That is an important position that needs to be maintained, and we shouldn't let it slip through our fingers because of carelessness. Now having said that, what we want to do is make sure that we continue to remain respectful, that as two countries we have different political systems and on some issues we have different views, but that's okay. Part of any mature relationship means that from time to time you do have, let's call them, political irritants. You deal with those in a mature way, you move on. Our trade relationship with China is worth a $155 billion per annum. Basically, 30 per cent of everything this country exports, we export to China. It's an important relationship and it's a relationship that we need to continue to work on. I firmly believe that Australia's relationship with China is the envy of countries like the United States, like the UK, and other countries, and so therefore we need to make sure that we are respectful of the value of the relationship, recognise there's some differences, but also make sure we capitalise on the mutual interests that we both have.

ROSS GREENWOOD: The question of course many people would ask and would fill the boards up here, listening to this conversation, is, does Australia have equal rights with China when it comes to acquiring property in mainland China as compared with Chinese interests coming to Australia and buying property? When it comes to rural property we know that the Treasurer has ruled on the S. Kidman & Co. decision, and so as a result Chinese interest either have to go and redo the deal or walk away completely. Now the suggestion is also there have been changes in policy on Chinese nationals buying houses in Australia, so the question is, are we embracing China and that investment or are we pushing it away? And indeed, do Australians have the same rights in China to buy houses and to buy farming property as Chinese do here in Australia?

STEVEN CIOBO: When I was in China recently for Australia Week in China, a big event, we took more than a thousand businesses across to China, Ross, as part of a showcase of Aussie exports in both manufactured goods, agricultural goods, services, and a variety of other initiatives like that. One of the businesses I went to was Goodman's to look at the size of their operations and logistics. They've got something like $6 billion that they've invested thus far in China, running a number of logistics centres across China. A great example of Aussie success in a very big market. Now, our economy is an open economy. We know Australia has thrived because we put in place reforms over many years now, in fact over decades. Those reforms have opened our economy up to competition, it means that our economy runs more efficiently. Why have we done this? We've done it because although from time to time we know there are segments of Australia that feel that opening the economy has hurt them, the fact is that overall it's good for Australia. By 'good for Australia' I mean it's driven national prosperity, it's made us as a peoples richer, it's helped to drive employment growth for our country. And those two things are part of the reason why Australia has had 25 years of continuous economic growth, the envy of developed countries around the world.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Okay. Just to leave you go on one question, and that is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If either Hilary Clinton and/or Donald Trump become the President of the United States, is the Trans-Pacific partnership dead in the water?

STEVEN CIOBO: I think we'll know before that happens. The reason I say that is because the key focus around the Trans-Pacific Partnership with respect to the United States is what they called the lame-duck session. What that means Ross, is that's the period of time when the UK Congress sits after the presidential election but before the inauguration of the new President. So the election is early November, the inauguration of the new President is in January. There's that intervening period when the US Congress will sit. All efforts in the United States around passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership are being directed toward that lame-duck session, so before the new President takes office we'll have a clear idea about whether or not it's going to get up or not.

ROSS GREENWOOD: And what is your hope?

STEVEN CIOBO: I hope that it does, because if it does get up it's very good news for Australia, it's great news for all 12 countries that comprise the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It means that we have one common set of trading rules across all 12 countries, which means we have less red tape, it makes it easier for people to trade, it helps to drive growth. You know Ross, from time to time I hear people raise concerns, they say, "Oh, this means that American companies are going to sue us. This means that we can't make decisions around private health insurance and medicines and things like that." Those claims are all false and they are wrong. We maintain our ability to carve out the Government's policy making with respect to putting in place decisions that we make about public health systems, around the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, all of these kinds of key issues. And that's why I think that ultimately this is a good deal for Australia, and what just requires me to stare down those who make false claims.

ROSS GREENWOOD: Steven Ciobo is our Trade Minister, guest on the program this evening, and Steven, we appreciate your time.

STEVEN CIOBO: A pleasure Ross, good to speak with you.