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CNBC Transcript: Steven Ciobo, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Australia


Following is the transcript of a CNBC interview with Steven Ciobo, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Australia. The interview was broadcast on Street Signs on 1 March 2018.

All references must be sourced to a "CNBC Interview'.

Interviewed by Martin Soong, Anchor, CNBC and Matthew Taylor, Reporter, CNBC.

Martin Soong (MS): Let's bring in Steven Ciobo, Minister for Tourism and Investment of Australia, live out of the capital Canberra. Minister, good to talk to you again. It's been a while. Thank you for your time. How, how happy are you that this is finally getting done?

Steven Ciobo: Quite a lot. This is a really good deal. The 11 countries that came together to make sure we could still progress this Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), have done so in good faith. We were able to achieve a really solid outcome, this is a great win for Australia, a great win in fact for all 11 countries that are doing this deal, and part of our ongoing commitment to make sure we continue to liberalize trade, continue to liberalize investment, because we know it's good for economic growth and good for jobs.

MS: Okay, so how about this though. I mean the central fact is big daddy U.S. is not part of this anymore, Trump pulled the U.S. out of TPP and back then, you know it had been described and hailed as a 21st century trade agreement, high on IP protection, labor protection, labor rights et cetera. What about this revised deal?

Steven Ciobo: Look, it's still a very comprehensive deal, and in fact one of the analogies that I've heard used about it, people have said this is a digital deal in an analogue world, the analogue world being trade policy more generally, so it's still a comprehensive ambitious trade deal. It is almost basically without peer because what we were able to do was harness the existing framework of the original TPP 12 deal. We were disappointed but not surprised that the United States chose to withdraw. President Trump made it clear he was going to do that but the remaining 11 of us said we are going to push forward with this regardless, because we know that this is a good outcome for each of us.

MS: What sense do you get? Could, possibly the U.S. return to this deal and would it be welcomed?

Steven Ciobo: Well, it's certainly welcomed to come back to the table. Australia's view and indeed, I think the view of all 11 countries that signed up to this TPP 11 deal would like to welcome the United States back to the table. Ultimately, that's a choice for the Trump administration. I was in the United States last week and had the opportunity, together with the prime minister, to canvas a number of issues with the Trump administration, with the president, and with my counterpart U.S. trade representative, Lighthizer. It's their decision, ultimately though, whether they want to come back and be part of this.

MS: So you know back when it was TPP 12, Minister, you will remember a lot of people, who were you know, weighing it on the one hand against China's competing vision, which is, RCEP. This new revised TPP 11 deal, does it stand up, can it stand up to RCEP?

Steven Ciobo: Well, I'd probably just pull you up on the language there. I mean this is not about a competing deal at all. The fact is that RCEP, or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, as it's called, is an important part of regional trade architecture if we can conclude that deal. We're working very hard on it. Australia sits both in the TPP 11 as well as in RCEP. The 16 countries involved in RCEP negotiations have varying levels of ambition about what we can achieve. Certainly, Australia's perspective is that we would like that to be a very high level of ambition, comprehensive trade deal too. But in trade policy terms, these things operate in parallel. It's not one competing against the other. They both bring value to the trade equation.

Matthew Taylor (MT): Hi Minister, it's Matt here in Sydney joining in the conversation as well. I just want to go back to your discussions that you had with the Trump administration and we have of course heard, President Trump publicly say that he may rejoin TPP, you just outlined some of the direction that you got out of the administration there during your meetings, but did you get any sense when the United States is likely to make a decision on whether or not they will come back and join in TPP?

Steven Ciobo: Well you know Matt, the clock isn't ticking on this and what I mean by that is that the 11 of us are pushing forward with putting this TPP 11 into effect. We'll have the signing in Santiago on March the 8. We are all doing our bit to make sure that we realize this vision. Now down the track, if the United States came back and said yes we want to be part of this, that would be terrific. And you know what, it's got open architecture. So we'd also be welcoming of other countries potentially that would like to join and you know, a number of countries have expressed interest in possibly joining. So there isn't a definitive shot clock so to speak, a time countdown that the U.S. has to join by. But I think it would be good for them. I certainly think it'd be good for the 11 of us if they took that decision, but ultimately you know, I guess that would be subject to domestic considerations in the United States.

MT: Big takeaway from the discussions between the Turnbull administration and the delegation in Washington was this plan by Australia to invest in this U.S. infrastructure build-out. Tell us a little bit more about this because it has drawn some criticism from, I guess some, certain parts of the community about Australian superannuation or Australian pension funds being poured into U.S. infrastructure. How'll you lay those concerns that are out there?

Steven Ciobo: I mean look, Australia is fortunate, as a relatively modest population size of 24, 25 million, we have a very large national savings pool, more than two trillion dollars' worth of national savings. Now, it just makes sense, frankly, for us to deploy that capital in a way that's diversified, in a way that maximizes returns, of course, for and mitigates risk as well, for those Australians that own that capital and that is, of course, every Australian who's got a superannuation plan and in Australia, as you know Matt, it's compulsory. So, it is about diversification, it's about opportunities for us to deploy capital in a way that's going to give us the best diversified exposure, and it's also recognizing the fact that as a country, Australia has real expertise particularly around public-private partnerships, and in particular how we can both design, construct, manage, and finance these large infrastructure projects.

MS: Okay, Minister, appreciate your time. Thank you so much. Great to talk you. Steven Ciobo there, joining us live from Canberra.