ABC AM - Interview with Kim Landers

  • Transcript, E&OE

JOURNALIST: The Foreign Minister is Julie Bishop; she joins me now on the line from New York. Minister, good morning.

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Kim, good to be with you.

JOURNALIST: Are Australian steel and aluminium exporters exempt from these tariffs?

JULIE BISHOP: The President has announced that the United States will be imposing a 25 per cent tariff on steel imports and 10 per cent on aluminium. He hasn't specified that there will be exemptions, however he has indicated that is under consideration. We have been making our case very strongly at all levels of the Administration. Indeed, today I met with the US Permanent Representative at the United Nations Nikki Haley and made our case to her, and we know she is very close to the President. She was sympathetic to our arguments, but she pointed out that ultimately this was a matter for the President and that we should continue our advocacy as the message was getting through. So, that is what we will continue to do until there is a final decision by the President.

JOURNALIST: So, still no clarity at this stage. The President has said he is open to modification. He has also said that he is putting a US Trade Representative in charge of negotiating with countries that are seeking to be exempted. So, how quickly will Australia get in touch with that trade representative?

JULIE BISHOP: We are all over it. We have been working on this matter for some time – the Prime Minister raised this matter with President Trump last year. All our diplomats, our ministers, have been making contact with counterparts throughout the Administration. I've spoken to very close business contacts of the President here in New York. I've been in contact with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by text, he is travelling throughout Africa, and my meeting with Nikki Haley today was to make our case and that is essentially that the United States has an significant trade surplus with Australia, that our steel exports to the United States are relatively small in the context of the US market, but extremely important to Australia and that exemptions on these national security grounds should apply to Australia.

JOURNALIST: So how confident are you that we can get this done?

JULIE BISHOP: Well we will continue to push our case, we will continue to advocate on behalf of Australia, for as long as it takes. We've also made the point that we had hoped the United States would work though the World Trade Organisation if they were concerned about unfair trade, there are anti-dumping measures available, they can seek redress against unfair trade and we expressed our concern that unilateral action would lead to a reaction, and there have been threatened trade wars. We are focusing very much on gaining an exemption and that is what all our efforts have been directed to, from the Prime Minister, to our Trade Minister, all our officials, all our diplomats, and that is what I have been doing here in New York.

JOURNALIST: We've seen reports that Greg Norman too was one of the several people who signed a letter urging President Trump to consider tariff exemptions for Australia. Were you aware of that letter?

JULIE BISHOP: We are calling in all contacts at every level. This is a very important matter for Australia; it is also a very important matter of principle, so we are making contact at every level throughout the Administration, including business representatives to make our case.

JOURNALIST: The ABC has been told that last year President Trump gave an emphatic promise to exempt Australia. What were the exact words that he said the Prime Minister back then?

JULIE BISHOP: I was not present at that meeting and so I wouldn't want to interpret it, but most certainly I've spoken to the Prime Minister of his understanding and others who were there, and of course there is an official record of that meeting. We understood that Australia would be exempted if the United States would go down that path.

JOURNALIST: Has this saga taught Australia not to believe anything that the President says?

JULIE BISHOP: No, not at all, not at all. The United States is entitled as a sovereign nation to make its own trade policy, but Australia as a close friend and trading partner and ally of the United States, is also entitled to make our case, in our national interest and that is what our Prime Minister and our Ministers and I have been doing.

JOURNALIST: But, if you think about all of the confusion of the last week, is there a lesson here not to take the President Trump's remarks, even some of his public remarks, take it all with a grain of salt until you see something in writing?

JULIE BISHOP: What we do as representatives for Australia, what we do in diplomacy is to continue to work with governments, with leaders to ensure that we promote Australian interests. And so, whatever the circumstances, whatever the challenges, our focus is to ensure that we can get the best possible outcome for Australia because this is all about jobs back home in Australia, it is about growing our economy and it is about being part of an open liberalised trade and investment environment that enables Australian exporters to compete fairly on the world stage.

JOURNALIST: Is this a litmus test for the US alliance?

JULIE BISHOP: No, I wouldn't put it that context at all. We've had trade issues with the United States before and Australia will continue to advocate very strongly that our steel and aluminium exports should be exempt from this tariff, based on the indications, that the President himself made, about the nations that could be exempted, so we are working very hard, I can assure you, to have our case heard at every conceivable level within the US Administration.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned before that you are all over it when it comes to this special US Trade Representative that is going to have to deal with other countries that want exemptions, do you think you can get a meeting with Robert Lighthizer while you are still there in the United States?

JULIE BISHOP: I'm afraid I won't be able to, I am heading home to Australia, but we have our Ambassador in Washington, our team in New York. So, I envisage that our embassy in Washington will be making representations as we speak.

JOURNALIST: Alright, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, thank you very much for joining us from New York.

JULIE BISHOP: Thank you, my pleasure.

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