Thomas Oriti, ABC Newsradio

17 July 2023


Thomas Oriti, Host: The UK has signed a treaty to join Australia in a major Trans-Pacific trade pact, becoming the first new country to join since the alliance was formed in 2018. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was formed back then between eleven countries. It included Australia, New Zealand and Canada. And it comes as Britain looks to deepen its ties in the Pacific after it, of course, left the European Union back in 2020. China, Taiwan and Ukraine are amongst the other countries who have also applied to join. Tim Ayres is the Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing. He joins us now from Auckland, where that meeting took place. Good morning. Thanks for your time, Tim.

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: G'day, Tom. Terrific to be talking with you and good morning to your listeners.

Thomas Oriti: Now, this can be complex for a lot of people to get their heads around trade talks, as we've learned in recent days with what's been happening in Europe. For those listening who aren't familiar with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, what does it do and how does it aid its member nations?

Assistant Minister: Well, it's now an agreement that has 500 million people covered by it, US$12 trillion worth of economic activity, and almost one out of every $6 of economic activity around the world is within the confines of the CPTPP. So, it's a very important trade instrument. And the reason these things matter, Tom, we get down to basics, is for Australian workers and Australian firms.

We know that firms that trade with the world offer jobs where wages are much higher, they're much better jobs, and labour productivity and productivity more broadly is higher. That's why trade matters and that's why trade agreements, like the CPTPP are crucial for the government's strategy to lift our level of economic opportunity, create better jobs and diversify our trading markets around the world.

Thomas Oriti: What does the UK bring to it, though, and what could that mean for Australia?

Assistant Minister: Well, the CPTPP is a very high standard agreement and the parties wanted to make sure that the first accession application was from a country that could meet the standards of the CPTPP and had a demonstrated track record of being able to meet the standards. And the UK accession process took a long time. It took two years to work through. Now we have our bilateral agreement with the United Kingdom that offers many advantages for Australian exporters and Australian consumers. Fundamentally, the UK's accession strengthens the CPTPP, broadens its reach beyond the region - beyond the Pacific region and I think strengthens the CPTPP's claim to be the preeminent trade bloc in the world.

Thomas Oriti: It's one hell of an acronym there that I'm sure you're sick of saying by now, Tim. China's application to join the pact, it's now next in line. I note Australia has a veto vote there actually as well, but what's your view? Should Beijing be allowed to join? What needs to be considered there?

Assistant Minister: Well, this is a really high quality, high standard agreement. It's not a surprise that there's a range of accession applicants, I think six formal applications, but many countries around the world want to be part of the CPTPP. It offers real advantages. It is a high standard agreement, but we resolved over the course of the weekend to take our time considering our approach to accession applications, to make sure that we learn the lessons as a group of CPTPP like-minded countries on these trade questions.

And also, there's - I don't want to get into too much of this arcane trade language with you, Tom, and your listeners, but there's an important question of making sure that we review the provisions of the CPTPP itself, which is a resource intensive exercise. We've got to modernise it. We've got to continue to have an approach in issues where the world's come at us fast, the world's come at us fast on the digital economy. When this agreement was negotiated, 3G didn't exist, let alone 4G and 5G, let alone artificial intelligence. And we need to make sure that the agreement works for all of our businesses, for the digital economy, that it delivers on climate and emissions questions and that it delivers on social and economic inclusion, so that more of our workers and more of our businesses in each of our economies are getting real and tangible benefits from the agreement.

Thomas Oriti: Yeah. Just while we have you there, last week, your colleague, the Trade Minister Don Farrell, left Brussels without signing a free trade agreement between Australia and the EU. I just wanted to get your thoughts on that while we've got you there, Tim Ayres, what's next on that front and what concessions do you want to see from the EU to get that deal over the line?

Assistant Minister: Well, we're deadly serious about achieving commercially meaningful improvements in terms of agricultural market access as part of the package of measures that ultimately need to be agreed between Australia and the European Union. Now, we'll continue discussions to bridge the gap. It's not a surprise. We've been very clear that these agricultural market access questions are fundamental to the Australian position. They're important for our farming communities and our agricultural sector, and our regional communities more broadly. We're going to continue to prosecute the case. This is an important agreement that offers a lot of economic, strategic and supply chain benefits to both the European Union and Australia. So, we're going to continue to work hard to achieve the agreement. But bottom line is, we need to see improvements to the European Union's offers on market access. And we're going to work hard in an effort led by Trade Minister Don Farrell to bridge the gap and to engage in that negotiation process in a way that puts Australian farmers and the Australian agricultural sector at the front of the queue.

Assistant Minister: Tim, thanks very much for joining us.