Topics: Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership; relations with India.

Transcript, E&OE

5 November 2019

Luke Grant: Now as I mentioned, it’s Melbourne Cup day here, and the connections of Vow and Declare are besides themselves, but the Prime Minister’s pretty happy with himself as well. He and the Trade Minister Simon Birmingham have just signed off on the world’s largest trade agreement. It’s called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, involving Australia and 10 other members of the ASEAN alliance. Other partners do include Japan, South Korea, and China, as I mentioned.

Senator Birmingham, Minister for Trade, happens to be on the line from Shanghai. Senator, thank you for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Hello Luke, great to be with you.

Luke Grant: Good to talk to you. And Simon, this is a big one, this deal.

Simon Birmingham: This certainly is. And what we’re doing here is trying to create more opportunities for Australian farmers, businesses, particularly our services sectors — financial services, education sectors, and the like — to be able to export into our region. You know, since we came to office six years ago, we’ve successfully secured a number of trade agreements with partners like China, Japan, Korea, a number of others through the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And through that time, we’ve driven Australian exports to record levels.

Many of your listeners might be surprised to know that we’ve now recorded record trade surpluses, month after month. So that means that Australia is routinely now exporting more than we import as a nation. Record numbers of Australian businesses are exporting, and that’s why we want to make sure that we keep creating new opportunities for them.

Luke Grant: We’ve got, as I understand it, individual trade agreements with some of these ASEAN nations already. So where does this big one fit in? Does it override all the existing deals or is it something different?

Simon Birmingham: These agreements complement one another. So yes, we do have multiple agreements in place with the partners here, but the 15-nation agreement that we’ve struck- and so it includes the ASEAN countries you’ve said — 10 nations including Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, as well as China, Korea, Japan, and New Zealand — and it- all up that means that some 29 per cent of global GDP that’s covered, so it’s a huge economic block. And what we’ve done here is in some cases we’re negotiating further than what our existing bilateral agreements between those countries may be. So getting even better access for Australian businesses.

In other cases, we’re applying more common rules across the board. So in terms of how you define where a product is made and whether it is within the scope of this agreement, we’ve got common rules of origin that apply, and that’s important to businesses that might sell one part of a product into a bigger value chain. So a component that goes into something bigger, such as a car, for example, where the car itself might be made in Thailand, but some of the parts come from Australia. And these are big opportunities to make sure that we actually have rules that enable those goods to flow at the lowest possible cost in terms of the types of taxes or tariffs applied to.

Luke Grant: I see India decided not to sign at this point. And when we have diplomatic frosty relations with China, people say, you know, if we had trade with more countries then it wouldn’t be such a risk if we were to have a disagreement with China and there might be trade concerns. Do you concede that India would have made this whole agreement a whole lot stronger and better for Australia?

Simon Birmingham: Bigger would have been better, there’s no doubt about that; Prime Minister’s acknowledged that. But we would have liked India to keep up pace with everybody else. They’ve said it’s not the time for them to sign at present, and we respect that decision. The door remains wide open to India. And separately what we had already done knowing that trying to get trade agreements with India is a very difficult proposition, was our government commissioned an India economic strategy. It has many, many different recommendations that we’re acting on. And it’s not just been sitting within my space as the Trade Minister. We have the Agriculture Minister, the Energy Minister, the Education Minister, the Foreign Minister, all acting as champions of working in this space, driving home new opportunities for us to deepen that engagement with India.

And our relationship there is very, very strong. Prime Minister Morrison is heading to India in January at the invitation of Prime Minister Modi. And that’s a real demonstration that we’re seeing strong indications of cooperation on a range of levels including economic levels from India. They’ve said they’re going to shortly complete a complementary reverse strategy. So I [indistinct] a strategy at how to deepen our economic ties with India, and they’ve done- done completing one on how to deepen their ties with us, and we warmly welcome that.

So we’re a bit disappointed that they’re not at the RCEP table, but very pleased that we’re continuing to find new ways to strengthen trade deals.

Luke Grant: Indeed. Simon, good to chat. Travel safely; thank you for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks Luke, my pleasure.

Luke Grant: All the best. That’s the Trade Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham.