Topics: Australia-US alliance; G20 summit; US-China trade tensions; coal; AHKFTA; IA-CEPA.
Interviewer: Prime Minister Scott Morrison kicked off the G20 schedules by discussing the diplomatic and security challenges including Iran and North Korea. Now Trump said he is committed to maximizing the economic partnership with Australia through fair, balanced, and mutually beneficial trade and investment. Joining us for an exclusive interview is Simon Birmingham Australia Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment in joins me right here in Osaka. Simon great to have you here.
Simon Birmingham: Great to be here.
Interviewer: Well you were with the Americans yesterday for dinner. What’s the sense that you get that they’re here to strike a deal. Does President Trump really want to strike a deal with China this weekend?
Simon Birmingham: Well look President Trump obviously wants to get the best outcome for the US. The message that Prime Minister Morrison and the Australians gave is one that we’ve been giving for a long time now and that is that global trade tensions are hurting global trading levels therefore global economic growth levels and that has impacts not just in the US or China but on all of the rest of us as well. Now we do share some of the concerns that the US has taken to China and we’d love to see and want to see an outcome that addresses some of those concerns around protection of intellectual property, ensuring that there is no forced technology transfer, that those type of issues are genuine ones as well as modernising and reforming the World Trade Organization. But we don’t want it to be at the expense of ensuring continued growth across our global economies.
Interviewer: If there is no deal there seems to be some doubt about that this time around, could we see that Australia stands to benefit if China is looking for other types of partners here on trade?
Simon Birmingham: Short term there are always potential benefits. You can see that that of course if you see further escalation in tariffs and a shift in terms of purchasing arrangements from one country to another, well it’s possible that Australia could be a beneficiary of some of those shifts. However we take the longer term perspective, what we want to see is a circumstance that continues the type of growth and prosperity we’ve seen around the world for the last few decades. Having a rules based system for international trade, opening up of markets Reducing tariff barriers and protectionism has ensured that the world has been able to grow, grow strong strongly, create more jobs, lift millions of people, hundreds of millions of people especially through this Asian region out of poverty. We want to see those gains continue, it’s important to us as a trading nation. One in five Australian jobs are trade dependent and so it’s critical to us to make sure we keep that openness in those trading rules.
Interviewer: Minister, we spoke with the Prime Minister Scott Morrison at Bloomberg just a couple of days ago and he said look I refuse to make that binary decision of choosing between sides between the U.S. and China. But we’ve seen some entities in Australia, the Minerals Council for example asking for Australia to do a reset when it comes to its relationship with China. Do you listen to those concerns, how do you respond to that?
Simon Birmingham: Our relationships are continuous. It’s not a case of resetting it’s a case of making sure you continue the good work that we have. China is Australia’s largest trading partner the United States is Australia’s largest investment partner. They are both important economic partners as well as partners in a regional sense, strategic sense and of course our long term defence cooperation with the United States. What’s critical to us is to make sure we build upon the strengths in our relationships and work honestly through the differences and there will be differences with any nation from time to time.
Interviewer: Australia has seen though a slowdown of its imports of coal to China. You’ve said before it’s non-discriminatory but what’s the latest here on that right now? Do you know how or why they’re doing this?
Simon Birmingham: China has provided both public and private assurances that it is non-discriminatory. What we’re told is that there are additional environmental checks that have been taking place in terms of the standard of coal. But these are issues that we continue to quietly raise with China to reassure ourselves that it is being applied in a non-discriminatory way, to make sure that we can give Australian business as much confidence and certainty about the types of timelines they will face because that’s not just important for Australian exporters but ultimately this coal is destined for Chinese plants and Chinese businesses, and it’s important for them in terms of the security of supply that they rely upon.
Interviewer: Why haven’t other exporters with different nations complain about the same issue. It’s not happening to them, can you explain why they’re not facing similar threats?
Simon Birmingham: Our understanding is that there have been some slowdowns in terms of the processing times for some others. And look we’re going to continue to watch those issues closely. What we want to ensure as I said, it that we have as productive a relationship as possible with both China and the United States. Our urging is for those two players if possible to end the trade tensions that are hurting everybody else. In the meantime we’re going to get on with particularly everybody else in making sure that we advance possible reforms to the World Trade Organization to make it more effective.
Interviewer: Do you see it as a way of China retaliating against Australia for banning Huawei equipment?
Simon Birmingham: Well we’re assured from China as I said that these are non-discriminatory measures. That’s what we’re continuing to take as an assurance. We continue to urge China, to make sure that we get the most out of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement which has been to the benefit of both countries. We’ve seen substantial growth and not only in trade but also in tourism exchange and people to people exchanges of students and others over the last few years. And this is a growing partnership that we want to make sure continues.
Interviewer: One last question on free trade deals when it comes to Indonesia, with Hong Kong as well, what is the date for ratification here and I’m guessing with Hong Kong with these protests is that a concern for you too?
Simon Birmingham: No so we’re hearing positive things from Hong Kong about ratification at their end. In terms of for Australia, we have some parliamentary processes to go through. There’s a required number of parliamentary sitting days that these agreements must sit before our parliamentary committee on treaties. So that will take us through to about October this year and then we’ll bring legislation to Parliament. So this year is what we will be hoping to achieve there.
Interviewer: And Indonesia?
Simon Birmingham: Indonesia as well.
Interviewer: Okay, alright. Simon thank you so much.