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Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull warns on protectionism

Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia, has a message for his Group of Twenty (G-20) counterparts: Ditch protectionism, and work towards global growth.

Speaking to CNBC in an exclusive interview before leaving to the G-20 meeting in Hangzhou, China, the 61-year old said the expansion of open markets, the encouragement of innovation and better living standards were at the top of his agenda.

The two-day summit begins on Sunday and will attract at least forty world leaders under the theme of "building an innovative, invigorated, interconnected and inclusive world economy."

Amid an environment of sluggish global exports and pessimism surrounding completion of the world's largest trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Turnbull said countries must uphold their G-20 commitments.

"The answer is not protectionism or fear. The answer is confidence and commitment to the goals that were set out at the G-20 in Brisbane [two years ago]. The answer lies in more free trade."

He pointed to Australia's economic diversification as proof of how beneficial open markets are.

"One of the elements enabling us to make a successful economic transition [away from resources] is in large part due to big trade deals we've done with China and South Korea that have opened up those market to Australian exports and services, which has picked up the slack from mining."

China, however, may not take too kindly to Turnbull's remarks.

Last month, Beijing labelled Australia 'protectionist' after Canberra rejected bids from Chinese and Hong Kong companies for a 99-year lease on state owned electricity provider Ausgrid, citing national security concerns.



Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
Stefan Postles - Getty Images
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Turnbull dismissed China's claims on Friday. "I'd challenge you to find a market easier than Australia for foreign investors, including China," he told CNBC's 'Capital Connection.'

"China understands the point about sovereignty. It is up to Australia to determine the basis on which foreign companies invest in our country, just as it is for China. This is a very open market, we welcome foreign investment but we reserve the right to say no, Ausgrid was one of those rare cases."

The PM also added that it's much easier for Chinese businesses to invest in Australia than vice-versa.

Since assuming power nearly one year ago, Turnbull's reign has been marked by a host of political problems ranging from a fiery opposition, budget repair and amending a law on racial discrimination.

His popularity among voters has slid, with a recent Newspoll revealing an approval rating of 34 percent, the lowest since he ousted former leader Tony Abbott last September.

His coalition government also came under fire on Friday after a few cabinet ministers and colleagues left parliament early on Thursday night, a move that cost the government to lose a procedural vote in the chamber.

"They made a mistake and have been read the riot act. It was a political game, a tactic employed by the [opposition] Labor party to take advantage of complacency on the part of some of my colleagues and they succeeded in embarrassing the government," Turnbull said.

However, the Coalition administration remains committed to delivering on its promises, he continued.

"While Labor has been playing games, we've been introducing new legislation, such as reform of the construction sector, omnibus savings bills, and tax cut measures."

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