Topics: Indonesia trade deal; China Australia relations; EU relations.

Transcript, E&OE

16 October 2019

Simon Birmingham: Thanks guys for coming along.

A central key pillar in the Coalition’s economic plan for Australia is to continue to expand market opportunities for Australian businesses to be able to export their goods and services to the rest of the world. And now under the Coalition Government, we have seen the percentage of Australian trade covered by free trade agreements expand from around 27 per cent to up to 70 per cent, and our ambition is to take that close to 90 per cent.

And during that time we’ve seen Australia record record trade surpluses. We’ve seen record numbers of Australian businesses exporting, and record numbers of Australians employed as a result of trade and exports. And so our ambition is to keep that strength going, having delivered already trade agreements with China, Japan, Korea, the Trans-Pacific Partnership; we want to now bring into force the agreements we’ve concluded negotiations on – with Indonesia, Peru, and Hong Kong. And that’s why I’m thrilled that today we have brought into the House of Representatives legislation that is crucial to enable the ratification and entry into force of those three new trade agreements. These agreements are going to provide significant new opportunities for Australian exporters to access growth markets like Indonesia – a market that of course is right on Australia’s doorstep, is forecast to become one of the biggest economies in the world, sitting alongside its status already as one of the biggest population centres in the world.

I want to make sure that in terms of the rest of our opportunities, we keep giving farmers and businesses the opportunity to sell more goods at better rates with better access into these key markets. Our intention is to bring forward the legislation now, for passage through the House of Representatives next week, and for it to clear the Senate by the end of this year so that we can see ratification and entry into force of these agreements early next year.

I hope and trust that the Labor Party will show the same degree of bipartisanship that they have in relation to other trade agreements and support the passage of these agreements. They are a crucial part of the economic plan for Australia. We have already demonstrated by opening up trade opportunities that we get more exports, that we see more jobs, that we see more business growth, and that’s exactly why we’re doing this in relation to Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Peru. And if the Labor Party are serious about their rhetoric that we should support global rules based trade systems, that we should more deeply integrate with Indonesia, and that we should create more opportunities for Australian business, then Labor will have no problems at all in supporting the passage of this legislation and ensuring that Australia and our farmers and businesses have more opportunity and access into these key markets into the future.

Question: Is the Government open to negotiating with the Labor Party on other concessions or a memorandum of understanding as a [indistinct] to get them over the line, given there are internal divisions in the Labor Party about supporting these deals?

Simon Birmingham: We’re practical, and of course I will always speak with my Labor counterparts. I’m genuine when I say that I hope bipartisanship can be maintained in relation to trade access and opportunities, because it’s crucial for Australian business, for Australian jobs, for Australian farmers that they continue to have the confidence in knowing that markets will open up around the rest of the world. Now, the Labor Party under its previous leader made some changes to their platform that I know are more restrictive, but I hope they can show the practicality, the common sense in recognising the trade agreements done to date have created more jobs and more exports, and that’s exactly what we expect to flow from bringing these trade agreements into force as well.

Question: Will you adopt any recommendations from the JSCOT report?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I’m looking at those recommendations and of course, as I say, we will engage in discussions with the Opposition where necessary, and we’ll work through issues if need be in a sensible way. But the agreements as they stand are good agreements that are demonstrably in Australia’s national interest. In Indonesia we’re going to see Australian grain growers get 500,000 tonnes of duty free access into the Indonesian market. That is something that I can tell you West Australian grain growers in particular are energised by, excited by, and want access to as soon as possible.

Question: Is there an argument for fighting for [indistinct] human rights’ clauses in Hong Kong [inaudible]…?

Simon Birmingham: In relation to the Hong Kong agreement – and the JSCOT report touched on this – this agreement gives practical reality and effect to recognition of one country, two systems. Australia has a trade agreement in place with the People’s Republic of China, as is well known, and that has been a significant success in growing the trade relationship between Australia and the PRC. But in relation to Hong Kong China, we recognise the separate system. We want to see that separate system respected and embedded for the future, and so this trade agreement, and bringing it into force, is a key way in which we can support Hong Kong China’s separate system as part of one China.

Question: Speaking of China, Bridget McKenzie yesterday alluded to [indistinct] talk to China [indistinct]. Is that realistic, that that could be [indistinct]?

Simon Birmingham: Look, we’ll continue to explore wherever we can with China opportunities for enhanced economic cooperation and enhanced cooperation overall. We don’t have pork access in a free flowing way at present into the Chinese market, but certainly we’re open to having those discussions if it is something that Australian industry thinks is feasible in the future.

Question: Indonesia, Peru and Hong Kong – are they ready to go early next year [indistinct]?

Simon Birmingham: So Peru and Hong Kong have completed, I believe, the processes of ratification. Indonesia, I met with the Indonesian Trade Minister in Bangkok on the weekend and he was confident that they will conclude their internal processes in a similar timeframe to that which we’re looking at with Australia. So we should be able to achieve entry into force of the Indonesian agreement by early next year.

Question: Will trade agreements include mining products for Indonesia and Peru, [indistinct] for our iron ore and coal?

Simon Birmingham: So there are opportunities, and not just in relation to resources, commodities, themselves – but critically also in relation to mining services companies, who increasingly do work in parts of Central and South America, as well as seeing opportunities in Indonesia. So we need to look there at the opportunities, not just for the traditional commodities and resources that Australia thinks about, but also for high skilled resources sector to be able to share that skills and knowledge by selling services into those markets and helping their resources industries to grow as well.

Question: So Fortescue would be right to try and put more to Indonesia rather than [indistinct] with China? They came out last week saying they wanted to have a better [indistinct] with China. Would they be better off to try and look at these new markets like Indonesia?

Simon Birmingham: Well, it’s up to each and every Australian business to determine where they do business, with whom they do business and where they sell their goods or services. What we seek to do as a Government, as a central part of our economic strategy, is to open doors for Australian business to as many big markets as we possibly can. Business decides which of those doors they walk through and how they manage the risk in doing so. So whether it’s Fortescue or any other company, they have to assess the risk and the opportunities in each of the markets. But what we want to do for them is create the maximum opportunity and the maximum number of markets to be able to export and undertake business. And that’s why bringing into force these agreements, particularly the agreement with Indonesia, creates new opportunities for Australian businesses to think more positively about another key market. And in the case of Indonesia, one that is not just economically important to us, not just a huge population centre, but also a key strategic pillar in the Indo-Pacific with whom we have deep co-operation on so many other fronts as well.

Question: What’s your response to the unions who raise concern that the Indonesia Agreement will open a way for future agreements to allow contractor service providers into the country without skills testing and labour market testing?

Simon Birmingham: To stop misleading, to stop lying. I’d say to the Australian union movement very clearly: there are no new labour market testing waivers created as a result of the Indonesian Free Trade Agreement. Point blank – no new ones created. So stop the scare campaign and recognise that this agreement has been negotiated to create more Australian jobs by giving us a better chance to sell more goods and services to Indonesia, and also to create more Indonesian jobs as well by better integrating our economies, ensuring- for example, when I spoke of Australian grains before, we know those Australian grains will be used in the production of Indonesian noodles, which are exported elsewhere across the region. It’s win-win outcomes like that that we celebrate across both our economies, and the union movement ought to recognise the trade agreements we’ve done to date have been good for Australian jobs, they’ve been good for exports and businesses, and these ones will be too.

Question: On the issue of Jock Palfreeman, what is the Australian Government doing to bring him back home given that he’s now been released from prison?

Simon Birmingham: Well, the Foreign Minister and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade continue to work closely and carefully in relation to work with these circumstances. I’ll leave it to Marise to provide any particular updates. But of course, his release is welcome and we look forward and trust that his return to Australia will happen shortly.

Question: You met with EU officials this week, is there any likelihood of signing up on a trade deal with them within the next 12 months?

Simon Birmingham: Well we hope to conclude the Australia-EU free trade agreement by the end of next year, that’s the stated ambition of the Government. Whether we do so will depend on whether or not we can negotiate a good deal that’s in Australia’s interest to do so. And we have some hurdles to clear yet in that regard, as I’m sure the EU would say as well. But negotiations between our officials are live and happening in Canberra this week in terms of the latest round of official negotiations, and I look forward to meeting with the incoming EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan at the earliest opportunity so that so that we can canvass the next steps, and secure opportunity and access into that huge market of 500 million people as soon as possible.

Question: Minister, [indistinct] what the sticking points are for the Europeans?

Simon Birmingham: Well, as l say, where we’re at an early stage of those negotiations. So are the market access opportunities we want them to be yet? No, they’re not. But I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be yet. I want them to be in the end, and if they’re not, then we won’t have a deal. If we can get them to a good point where our farmers, our businesses get the type of access that we think is fair and reasonable into the EU, then we’ll have a deal. Obviously, the EU has their demands around issues such as geographical indications, which we are consulting on in good faith with Australian industry at present.

Question: Hong Kong, the negotiations were…[indistinct] before the disruptions in the last couple of months. Is the deal as valuable, more valuable, less valuable as a result of the changed circumstances in Hong Kong?

Simon Birmingham: Look, I think we have to take both a long term perspective with Hong Kong, and I hope an optimistic one. We believe that implementation of the Hong Kong-Australia agreement does give life to one country, two systems, and it supports Hong Kong, its unique identity and status. And Australian businesses value the rule of law in Hong Kong that is well established, and the opportunities that Hong Kong provides as a central location for access, particularly into southern China. We hope that matters there can be resolved peacefully and in a way that is respectful to the two systems, and ensures that continued operation of two systems into the future. But to predict in terms of where the Hong Kong economy will go in in years to come, that’s something I’ll leave the economic forecasters.

Question: Minister, on Britain, on Brexit – Brexit seems to be coming towards [indistinct]. How are the negotiations going on with Britain at the moment?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we welcomed the UK Trade Secretary here a few weeks ago and she and the UK Government are incredibly enthusiastic about starting, formally and officially, trade negotiations between Australia and the UK as soon as they’re in a position to do so. Looks like we’ll have some clarity perhaps as early as Saturday as to when that may be. Certainly we stand ready, willing, and able to move as fast as the UK is able to move whilst continuing to give absolute priority to getting that EU agreement as well.

Question: Is there a dollar value on Australia exporting our exports to Britain? Have you worked out a dollar value for that yet, towards the Australian economy?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ve certainly seen in the decades since the UK entered the European common market significant decline in relation to the overall value of the trade relationship between Australia and the UK. If the UK is to leave the EU and establish trade arrangements with Australia, we hope we can re-establish significant value that that was lost as a result of the trade barriers that the UK adopted decades ago.

Thanks guys. Cheers.