SENATOR THE HON SIMON BIRMINGHAM
Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for South Australia
Topics: Australia-UK trade relations
Simon Birmingham: Hello everybody, and thanks very much for coming along.
I’m thrilled to welcome to Australia the UK Secretary of State for International Trade, Liz Truss. Secretary Truss and I have had some wonderful discussions this morning, and indeed, she is also meeting with a number of my Cabinet colleagues here. Australia and the UK are obviously at the deepest of relationships, the deepest of family connections, the deepest of friends. And Australia seeks to ensure that as the UK pursues its agenda of exiting the European Union, that we have the richest, deepest economic ties possible for the future. The UK is already a top 10 trading partner for Australia; our eighth largest in terms of two-way trade. It’s a critical destination for many Australian exports and we hope to see that grow in the future, because at present, market access to the UK has been restricted as a result of EU arrangements.
Now of course, as is well known, we are as a country already pursuing constructive, positive engagements with the European Union in terms of free trade negotiations there. But we stand absolutely ready to work with the UK in the moment they are ready to do so, as quickly as they are able to do so in terms of pursuing FTA negotiations with the UK and concluding that as quickly as possible. I want to thank Secretary Truss for her enthusiasm, commitment and positivity in terms of the discussions that we’re having. We share, I think, a strong and positive ambition to make sure that the UK-Australia relationship is as rich and deep as it possibly can be into the future. We understand the complementarities of our economies, the opportunities for enhanced export trade and investment growth into the future, and we are firmly committed to realise that.
Liz Truss: Well thank you very much, Minister Birmingham. It’s fantastic to be here in Australia. As I arrived at Sydney, I was greeted by rain so I felt like I’d come home. And we do have a massively exciting opportunity. The UK will be leaving the European Union on 31 October, Deal or No Deal. And that will give us the opportunity to strike new trade deals with the rest of the world. This is the first time in 45 years that the UK has its own independent trade policy, and Australia is one of the first countries that we consulted on in terms of doing a trade deal. It’s one of our absolute priorities. We are old friends. Of course, as nations, we share a proud Democratic history. We’re both free-trading nations; we both believe in free enterprise. But I think there is an incredible set of new opportunities that we have as nations together, whether it’s in areas like financial services, technology – where we can do much more close work together – or indeed other areas. I notice that one of our top exports to you is spirits and your top export to us is wine. So there’s more to be done in terms of lowering tariff in those areas as well.
But what I have said to you, Minister Birmingham, is we want a fully comprehensive trade deal that reflects our deep, ongoing relationship; the friendship between our two countries; the fact that Australians want to come and live and work in Britain, and Brits want to come and live and work in Australia. And leaving the European Union really does give us a chance as a country to become more outward-looking, to become more competitive and to deepen our links with our partners right across the world. And the reason that I’ve chosen to make Australia one of the first countries I’ve visited as Trade Secretary is this is an absolute priority for me to get on with this trade deal.
So, thank you very much for having me. I’ve had a very warm welcome here in Canberra and we’re very happy to answer any questions. Thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you. So we’ll take a few questions each, if you like.
Journalist: You mentioned freedom of movement there and in terms of allowing more Australians to go and work in the UK, and vice versa. Do you see any- particularly, any relaxing on the current regulations? You know, there’s sort of one new visa that you get [indistinct] going over there only up until the age of 30? Is that on the table and what do you envisage is that [indistinct]?
Liz Truss: So we’ve already made change as the government. We’ve been clear of the fact we want to adopt the Australian-based points system in terms of our new immigration system as we leave the European Union. We’ve recently made an announcement that we’re extending the work period after foreign students come to the UK for two years. But of course, our two countries have a special link and a historic relationship, and it’s certainly something that we will be looking at as part of our free trade negotiations.
Journalist: Minister Birmingham, what could this be worth to Australia and what particular exports do you think would really be encouraged by this?
Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s no secret that as part of the EU, market access in terms of agricultural products has been limited and that is something that through both our EU negotiations and our perspective UK negotiations that we seek to address and to ensure much stronger access for our farmers and our farm businesses into the future. But we also, as Secretary Truss has rightly identified, see this as being a comprehensive and ambitious agreement. We see enormous opportunities in relation to the services sector for enhanced cooperation. And the UK is, of course, a well-known and well-respected and regarded financial hub and center of the world. We share common rule of law, common language, common opportunities, therefore, for greater integration and cooperation of our businesses across many of those spheres as well. So, it is by no means a narrow range of opportunities.
What is it worth? Well, as I say in relation to all of our trade relationships, government negotiations and agreements open the door. Businesses determine to what extent they walk through those open doors and to what extent the value of that trade is. But we are confident the enthusiasm is there from Australian business, from British business, to maximise the opportunities under any agreement that we strike.
Journalist: Can we bring back the 70s relationship before the European common market?
Simon Birmingham: Well I think, to an extent, that is something that frames part of the history of our discussions. That yes, the entry into the common market shut off some opportunities, but this is an agreement for the future and will be an agreement that looks towards being comprehensive and ambitious, that does integrate modern aspects – not just in the services sector but reflecting cooperation in digital trade, in e-commerce – so ensuring that we address all of those areas that form part of the best practice trade agreements in the world at present.
Journalist: Is there a bit of irony there, that after turning their back on Australia they’re now keen to re-engage with us.
Liz Truss: Well, a lot has happened over the past 40 or so years. I think both Minister Birmingham and I weren’t around in politics when those decisions were made. And the European Union has changed. One of the issues we have faced is increased regulatory harmonisation driven by the EU, which has prevented us from being able to strike those deals and being able to work with other partners around the world. And in fact, the UK trades more with the rest of the world than the EU and that is where a lot of the growing markets are. So, there is a big opportunity for us to do things differently and to use those new freedoms we have. Of course, we want a good relationship with the EU. We want to secure a free trade deal. But what we don’t want is the regulatory tie-ins that we’ve had in the past that’s prevented, I think, the UK from truly exploring some of the opportunities ahead of us.
Simon Birmingham: I’ll deal with it quickly there – and that is if we held grudges over things that happened 40-plus years ago in relation to our trade or foreign policy or anywhere else, we’d never accomplish anything. So we absolutely look to the future.
Journalist: Secretary Truss, Phil Mercer from the BBC. The Trade is critical, as of the politics of course. Back in June, you said the prorogue Parliament was an archaic maneuver and that Boris Johnson had ruled it out. Firstly, was he wrong to do so? And secondly, if the Supreme Court says that the Prime Minister lied to the Queen, should he resign?
Liz Truss: Well first of all, every parliament gets prorogued in advance of the Queen’s Speech, and that’s precisely what the Prime Minister has done. We’ve already had a very long parliament with a lot of discussion taking place. And it’s right that the Prime Minister sets out his new agenda. Now what really ought to have happened is an election. We know that Parliament has struggled to make up its mind even though the public have been very clear that they want to see us deliver Brexit. The right thing would be for the Labour Party to agree to have an election, and that way the country could move forward.
Journalist: What about the Supreme Court question, Secretary Truss, in terms of if it goes against Boris Johnson, should he resign? If the court decides that he lied to the Queen, the Head of State, should he resign?
Liz Truss I don’t answer hypothetical questions.
Journalist: You talk about wanting a comprehensive agreement. These are renowned for taking years. So what is the timeframe that you’re looking at and how does that rate in terms of how much a priority Australia is compared to the US, the EU, and Asian nations?
Liz Truss: Well, I think a comprehensive agreement can be reached in fairly short order. We’ve already had very positive discussion about the types of issue that would be considered in such an agreement. CTPPP, which we are very keen to be part of, has already made significant progress in terms of discussions of one of those issues. And one of the things I’ve been clear about with Minister Birmingham is that the UK is very keen to accede to TPP as part of the negotiations with Australia and other partners such as New Zealand as well. So I think we can make rapid progress. We’re one country negotiating with Australia, rather than the EU 27, which are a rather more hard nut to crack. And we’ve got a lot of common interest. We want to make progress, and we’ve already done significant work between our two countries in terms of official level working groups.
Journalist: What are the points of difference that is the tensions that are already arising in the early negotiations?
Simon Birmingham: I think it’s probably a little early to get to the tensions. We’ll start formal negotiations when the UK realises its policy to leave the European Union. We are confident as a country that we can get on and the negotiate quickly, land a deal quickly. We’ve demonstrated as a Government over the last six years our capacity to do that in a diverse range of settings, that negotiations that had dragged on for years and years in the case of many of our FTA partners were bought to a conclusion by the Coalition Government. And we’re confident that these negotiations wont drag on at all and that we will be able with the shared ambition to make this comprehensive agreement to ensure that it opens up markets as much as possible is one that we can land quickly and do so to the benefit of both our economies.
Journalist: Secretary Truss, do you see any tensions?
Liz Truss: Well look, every trade deal, every trade discussion will inevitably have elements of negotiations. And both of our countries have interest. And I’m sure Minister Birmingham will fight hard for Australia’s interests, I will fight hard for Britain’s interest, to make sure that we get the best possible deal. But I think there are huge mutual advantages, not just in terms of trade but also in terms of investment. We already have huge amounts of investment made by Australian business into the UK and vice versa. And I think this can help grow our economies and create new markets for our industries. So I think there’s a lot of exciting prospects ahead.
Journalist: Minister and Secretary, Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Jolie King and Mark Firkin; three individuals, two of them have dual citizenship, Kylie and Jolie. They’ve obviously been taken prisoner or arrested in Iran. What’s the position of both governments at the moment? Can you give us an idea of what’s being done and how alarmed are you by the situation?
Simon Birmingham: These, Jonathan, are very serious matters. Of course the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, has spoken on these matters during the course of the week. No doubt, we’ll continue to do so. Australia has been clear that for a long period of time now, we’ve been providing consular assistance and that there are expectations in relation to the fair and transparent treatment of citizens. And we will continue to advocate very clearly for that.
Liz Truss: Likewise, our Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is very concerned about this issue and he’s dealing with it.
Journalist: So Secretary Truss, I mean you say you’d like to see this done rapidly, this deal. Do you have a timetable in mind, are you talking first half of next year and of this year? What’s the timetable?
Liz Truss: Well I would definitely say months rather than years.
Journalist: Secretary Truss, just in regards, are there any areas of Australian produce, agriculture, that will be off the table in terms of discussions, areas that you don’t want to see any changes to tariffs?
Liz Truss: I’m sure you’ll appreciate that I’m not going to conduct the negotiations in this press conference. We will be having detailed discussions about all of these issues in due course.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks everybody. And on a parting note, just to of course note, that Secretary Truss expressed her disappointment that she wasn’t personally able to bring the Ashes over.
Liz Truss: I’ll take a trade deal instead.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks everyone.
Liz Truss: Thank you.