MR BROK: Ladies and gentlemen, let us start. We are very thankful to both the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Trade Committee to have a discussion with the Foreign Minister of Australia Julie Bishop and Steve Ciobo, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment of Australia. This meeting went very well. It showed that it is in our common interest to cooperate in a lot of sectors. Though we are happy, that hopefully, that at the end of this year the free trade agreement with Australia will be signed. The European Parliament is very much in favour of that. They have made it clear that we are ready to ratify as fast as possible in this process because such a trade relationship is of the upmost importance.
We believe also that we need a closer cooperation between Australia and the European Union in question of stabilising the world. We see our common interests in the situation, for example in the South China Sea, and other questions. We will see the questions in Syria and Iraq and nobody can say it is so far away and we have no interest any more. We all part of that especially when it comes to the combination of ISIS/Daesh, terror, partly migration because of terror, and other questions in migration which we might have in different opinions. But we have also learned that it’s also a different situation. And I believe that it is an important question that this relationship becomes much higher, on the political agenda of the European Union and its member states. Therefore we are thankful that Mrs Bishop and Mrs Mogherini have set up a high-level group between Australia and the European Union both for politics and for media, for civil society, for business in order to have a broader basis for our future discussions and to deepen our relationship. Mrs Bishop.
MINISTER BISHOP: Thank you Mr Brok and it is indeed a pleasure to be here with my colleague the Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister from Australia Steve Ciobo.
We are here to reaffirm Australia’s commitment to deeper, broader, more diversified cooperation with the European Union. The EU has brought many benefits to its citizens and to this continent. It has brought peace and stability to a continent that was wracked by conflict in the twentieth century. It has been the embodiment of respect of international laws and adherence to human rights and it has brought greater prosperity to this continent.
Australia and the EU share many common values and interests. We are an open liberal democracy committed to the rule of law, human rights, democratic institutions. We are also an open export oriented market economy and we believe firmly in the benefits of free trade.
So, this has been an opportunity to discuss with the foreign affairs and trade committees some of the issues we have in common, some of the challenges that we face together and ways that we can deepen our cooperation.
We both face the global threat of terrorism and we must work more closely together to share insights, share information and experiences on how to counter terrorism and to keep our people safe. And we are deeply conscious of the terrible attacks that have occurred here in Brussels and in other European cities in recent years and we extend our deepest condolences to the people of the EU, and elsewhere, who have suffered from these terrorist attacks.
We have resolved to work more closely together across a range of fields, not only in business and industry, arts and culture but in environment, healthcare; a range of areas, but importantly, in security and counter terrorism.
Later today Federica Mogherini and I will launch the EU-Australia Leadership Forum which will be an opportunity not only for leaders but also emerging leaders from the EU and Australia to meet, to discuss the range of opportunities and challenges that we can work on together.
So our visit here is to reaffirm our commitment to deep cooperation between Australia and the European Union.
MINISTER CIOBO: Thank you Chairman Brok, to my colleague Julie Bishop, Australia’s Foreign Minister, ladies and gentlemen. It’s been an absolutely pleasure for me to have had the opportunity to speak about the future of the trading relationship and investment relationship between Australia and the European Union. We know at a time when international economic headwinds are making the challenge of achieving high levels of growth; an important precursor to achieving higher levels of employment, that we need to find innovative ways to go about improving our opportunity for growth. In that respect Australia is a fierce advocate when it comes to the benefits of free trade, and the deals that can be done between the European Union and Australia. We come from the Asia region of the world, where we see largely throughout the region high levels of economic growth as countries have opened up and engaged in trade with the world. It is our firm belief that the nature of the trade relationship between the European Union and Australia offers tremendous potential to drive higher levels of economic growth with the ensuing benefits that flows from better opportunities for employment as a consequence. The relationship between the European Union and Australia when it comes to trade and investment is an important relationship. We’ve had a very successful scoping study that is now approaching its conclusion. A scoping study to highlight the high level of ambition that exists on both sides with respect to, we hope, forthcoming negotiations on a European-Australia Free Trade Agreement.
We share similar values with respect to having a strong belief in the benefits that come from a global trading system. We share two mature developed economies. We have a common approach with respect to having certainty around investment frameworks.
And in that respect, the scoping study that is currently being undertaken, I hope which will conclude by the end of this year, will then be leveraged into the formal commencement of FTA negotiations next year.
The comments from the floor of this morning’s committee meeting is certainly very encouraging in that respect. Australia is very keen to pursue a commercially meaningful, comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union that lays down the framework for the economic bonds between the EU and Australia to go from strength to strength.
At a time where the world needs economic growth, we know that we can achieve economic growth through greater integration of our economies through a free trade agreement, and in that respect we stand alongside the European Union in the pursuit of this outcome. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: You are no doubt aware of all the series of kind of complaints, opposition to TTIP, the EU US deal, or negotiations to CETA as well they have now concluded a EU-Canada deal. I just wondered in the light of, obviously them and we have the French and German Minister saying that it’s either dead in the case of TTIP, or it should be put to bed, but how credible is the EU as a partner in trade negotiations and how convinced are you about the EU’s will, desire, ability, to actually deliver on a deal once one has obviously reached?
MINISTER CIOBO: My discussions with Cecilia Malmström have certainly been very productive and warm and cordial thus far. I am very confident that there is a high level of ambition on the part of the European Union in terms of engaging in good faith negotiations with Australia I hope, as I mentioned, next year.
It really boils down to whether or not we are able to capture the benefits that flow from a free trade agreement, and that is predominantly is high levels of economic growth and the positive impact that has on employment.
My clear message from Australia’s experience is that free trade agreements drive economic growth and deliver jobs. And at a time when much of the world is facing, as I outlined, economic headwinds I firmly believe that the European Union fully appraised of the benefits of an FTA with a country like Australia, cognisant that we share values, we share a similar approach with respect to the global trading system, will be able to capitalise on this opportunity and deliver an outcome that is pragmatic but also commercially meaningful.
MR BROK: Could I make a remark to that. The European Union is of a clear opinion that we would ratify a free trade agreement with Australia. We have in certain countries, only in certain countries and in certain parties, debates about TTIP. This is a totally political issue which has nothing to do with a free trade agreement with Australia therefore I would be sure that there is no danger that would come out of that for this agreement.
JOURNALIST: Isn’t there this reality that this deal that you’re talking about today, this potential free trade agreement, with the EU is much more significant than a free trade agreement if it were to come with Britain with Brexit, Britain. How would you compare and contrast the two in scope, in size and also in timeframe? Thank you.
MINISTER CIOBO: I wouldn’t compare and contrast the two. These are two separate negotiations and in fact I wouldn’t even characterise the discussions with the UK as negotiations. We have a scoping study that’s underway with the EU. A scoping study that concludes at the end of this year and as I said which I hope will leverage into the formal commencements of negotiations around an FTA with the EU in the first half of next year. That’s Australia’s aspiration. With the UK, it remains as part of the EU, and does for at least the next two and a half years, I expect. We’ve made it clear, and I’ve just come from London, that we will look at forming a working group at an officials’ level to look at scoping discussions around a possible post-Brexit UK-Australia FTA. But to suggest that process parallels with the much more mature and advanced process that we’re undertaking with the EU, I think would be an error.
JOURNALIST: A question to Minister Ciobo. What is your target date for the opening of negotiations with the EU? And one more if I may; the members of this parliament have warned you against opening simultaneous FTA negotiations with the UK. Do you share any of these concerns?
MINISTER CIOBO: I think I have already addressed your second question already in respect to the UK. In terms of your first question, as I outlined the scoping study that the EU and Australia have been undertaking will conclude by the end of this year. It is Australia’s desire to be able, at the conclusion of the scoping study, to be able to formally commence EU-Australia negotiations on an FTA in the first half of next year. I am mindful that there is a process that the EU has to work through, in terms of obtaining an FTA mandate for negotiation – I’ve got to do the same thing in Australia. But I would hope that we can begin formal negotiations in the first half of next year.
MR BROK: If I can make a remark to that myself. I think it is good to finish now the negotiations between the European Union and Australia about the FTA, ratify it; then we have to see how the future relationship of the European Union with Great Britain is. It’s a question which will stay in the internal market or not, that for example will have a major impact on trade arrangements between United Kingdom and Australia. And if Britain is totally a third country, then it is normal that Australia and Great Britain negotiate a free trade agreement or something like that, what they want. But that is not up to us. I do not see any problems between European Union and Australia because of this question.
JOURNALIST: Sometimes trade can be jeopardised by very small articles so what is the state of the play of the canned tomato controversy and when can we expect a decision from Australian authorities on the matter?
MINISTER CIOBO: The issue of canned tomatoes and the ensuing issue about green box subsidies is a matter that’s been raised with me. In Australia, the decision around anti-dumping tariffs is a decision that is taken by an independent body, the Anti-Dumping Commission. It’s not a function of executive government. Having had the issue raised with me, I have spoken with my colleagues about the importance of having a close look at this issue. The Anti-Dumping Commission is undertaking a review of the decision. There is a timetable to be worked through in regard to that and in due course, we will see the conclusion the ADC, the Anti-Dumping Commission, reaches. But I stress again, it is independent. It is separate to executive government. But being appraised of the concerns, with respect to green box subsidies I, together with my colleagues, are having the ADC review this and we will know in due course.
JOURNALIST: Do you feel like the prettiest girl at the dance because you were lorded in the UK and now here you’re being fought over? Does this mean that Australia is likely to get a better deal out of an EU trade deal and also a UK one? And secondly, agriculture in this continent essentially operates on a series of tax payer funded subsidies which your government would probably call handouts maybe. How are you going to get around that when you do a trade deal particularly on the sticky subject of agriculture?
MINISTER CIOBO: So I should share with all the European journalists the sense of irony of an Australian question, calling me the prettiest girl at the dance. But in terms of what we can do together with respect to agriculture – look Australia has proven itself to be a pragmatic partner when it comes to FTA negotiations. But there’s always sensitivities on both sides of any negotiation. With the bilateral negotiation with the European Union I am very, very confident that we can work our way through sensitivities in a way that recognises the high level of ambition that exists on both sides with respect to a free trade agreement. I made the point a little earlier in my remarks to the committee that if you look at the actual volumes of agricultural output from Australia versus the EU, the EU is a much larger producer of agricultural exports than Australia is. We obviously have a very strong focus on agricultural exports to Asia. But I am very confident that respective of relative sizes of agricultural outputs that we will be able to achieve some good outcomes. I mean we do want an improvement, a significant improvement, in Australia’s opportunities with respect to the European Union on agricultural products. But mindful of that, I am sure the Europeans also have ambition in terms of their exports of goods and services as well. I am very confident we will be able to find a pragmatic way forward.
JOURNALIST: Are we going to get a better deal because two different currently semi at war parties want to trade with us?
MINISTER CIOBO: Well, I am just not going to compare and contrast the two. We have mature advanced discussions with the EU. We’ve got a scoping study that’s nearly finished and I’d hope the formal commencement of FTA negotiations in the first half of next year. With the UK, we have the UK remaining a part of the European Union, for at least the next two and a half years or thereabouts. So to compare those two is I think comparing apples and oranges.
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