Topics: G20 Summit; Australia-US alliance; responsibilities of social media organisations in combatting terrorism.
Leo Shanahan: We begin this morning with promising news for global trade out of the G20 summit in Japan. A tentative truce between the United States and China and a resumption of trade negotiations. Earlier I spoke with Australia’s Trade Minister Simon Birmingham and began asking him what he believes the outcome of the talks will be.
Simon Birmingham: (indistinct)…what detail emerges but it is certainly welcome news that there will not be in any immediate sense a further escalation of the tariff war between the United States and China. That’s going to head off a predicted further decrease in rates of global economic growth, a decrease that the IMF had predicted could have been as profound as saying global growth slipped from an estimated 3.6 per cent down to 3.1 per cent and it would have had real consequences for economies right around the world. Now we continue to watch very carefully and closely what exactly is on the table for negotiations and we urge the parties to make sure that in their negotiations they come up with something that is World Trade Organization consistent and compliant and that it’s not about getting managed trade outcomes of particular goods but is about ideally lowering trade barriers between those countries, setting a good example for the rest of the world and dealing with some of those issues of concern around forced technology transfer, protection of intellectual property and the like.
Leo Shanahan: Has Australia suffered from this trade war thus far in your opinion? There seems to be a mixed view on that.
Simon Birmingham: You can’t pinpoint it. There’s a possibility that without these tensions the global rate of economic growth would be a little bit higher. And from that probable increase of global economic growth that our own growth may be a little bit stronger as well. So in that sense yes there may well have been consequences. It’s built into our budget projections and what we’ve done there is take a careful cautious and prudent approach. But ultimately what we hope to see is that these trade tensions do settle down because growth in trade has been such a strong driver through recent times of growth in economic prosperity. And what that has done is lift of course hundreds of millions of people out of poverty throughout our region. And that’s a trend that we are very committed to trying to see continue.
Leo Shanahan: And so what are you actually hoping to see for Australia in a future deal between China and America?
Simon Birmingham: What we would hope is that it provides certainty for Australia for markets around the fact that there will be continued opening of the Chinese economy and of trade between those two global economic powers which can only in a globally integrated world where value chains for production for business are so connected, can only be good news for Australia and for others. We would like to see some of the issues that have been put on the agenda as the Prime Minister highlighted in his speech to the Asia Society last week. We’d like to see some of those issues dealt with around as I indicated before forced technology transfer, protection of intellectual property, giving businesses confidence that they will be able to operate in a safe and secure environment when they’re engaged. They’re all really valid concerns. We’ve said that for a long time. However we’ve been critical of the application of unilateral tariff measures by the US because in the end they’re hurting not just consumers in the US or in China but having that spill over effect on global economic growth everywhere.
Leo Shanahan: Sure. Now you were at the G20, you were at this dinner with President Trump I understand. What was that experience like and did you express concerns around the trade war with China?
Simon Birmingham: Well the Prime Minister did the bulk of the talking for Australia at the dinner. I spoke about a couple of different trade issues whilst we were there. It was a very productive discussion between President Trump and Prime Minister Morrison. It was one that canvassed a wide range of issues, security issues as well as trade issues and other areas of global cooperation. It’s one that clearly underscored the strength of the relationship between the US and Australia and that’s critically important. But the Prime Minister gave messages that were consistent with his Asia Society speech. They were messages that really focused in on the need and the desirability of seeing an end to the global trade war. They were about the benefits that we have seen in our region from trade growth and the economic prosperity that’s been delivered. And they were messages about the fact that we want to see the US as an engaged economic partner as well as strategic partner throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
Leo Shanahan: Did you express concerns, or anyone on the Australian side express concerns, about the America First policy damaging America’s allies like Australia?
Simon Birmingham: Not in those terms but certainly we discussed the importance as I said of American engagement. Engagement strategically, engagement economically of American leadership and the Prime Minister had made a very strong point about the responsibility that great powers have. The United States has been a great power for a long time dating all the way back certainly since the Second World War when the US then helped to build and establish many of the global institutions and rules that have allowed trade to grow and prosper as such as the rules that underpin the World Trade Organization. China of course has grown through that period and itself now stands as a great economic power. And we urge them, both of them, to show the type of responsibility that comes with being a great power. I thought the President Xi’s comments following the meeting with President Trump yesterday that cooperation and dialogue are much better than friction and confrontation is indeed exactly the right sentiment and tone and the right sentiment and tone that we expect to see from responsible global economic powers like the US and China, in the way they conduct themselves and that having been a positive spin-off responsible in the way they reflect upon the rest of the world.
Leo Shanahan: Minister I just wanted to ask you about this memorandum overnight as well that mentioned the responsibilities of social media organisations that the Prime Minister has had included in the G20’s memorandum. What’s the importance of that and why was that a priority for Australia?
Simon Birmingham: It was very important for Australia but for the whole world in terms of how it is that we continue to combat terrorism in all its forms and what we’ve seen and particularly saw out of the horrific events in Christchurch is that terrorists are using the Internet and the ability to be able to live stream or broadcast images of their horrific acts to an audience. And in doing so of course they are hoping to inspire others or have greater impact in terms of the terrorist actions that they’re undertaking in the generation of fear or concern in communities. The Prime Minister certainly in terms of discussions with New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern has been over a period of time now seeking to build global support for a strong G20 statement against the use of the Internet for promotion of such violent incidents.
Leo Shanahan: Have social media companies been irresponsible thus far do you think?
Simon Birmingham: Well we don’t believe they’ve lived up to their responsibilities and that’s why Scott Morrison led the way in Australia of passing domestic laws before the last election to make sure there were stronger conditions upon them and expectations about taking down such content in a timely manner. When advised by authorities the message from the G20 is now clear that other countries share the same types of concerns that Australia and New Zealand have that those countries have now jointly cooperatively sent a message to those social media companies that they must lift their game and act more in accordance with the expectations of governments from around the world. And of course that sets a signal that where those companies not to do so well then other governments may will follow suit with the type of legislation that’s been enacted here in Australia. Also today we’ll see the release of a report from a task force that was set up as we pass that legislation through the Parliament and that again has now elicited further commitments from social media companies about the steps that they will take and the cooperation that we will see to try to stamp out this appalling broadcast of violent terrorist content.
Leo Shanahan: Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for joining us.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you.