Interview with Laura Jayes – Sky News – Monday, 5 March 2018






SUBJECTS: US tariffs on steel and aluminium

LAURA JAYES: I want to bring in now the Shadow Trade and Investment Minister, Jason Clare. Jason Clare thanks so much for your time. Is it fair to say that Labor is at one with the Government and that you’re pretty happy with the way they’ve handled this so far?

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INVESTMENT: I think we both agree that a 25 percent tariff on Australian steel being exported to the US and a 10 percent tariff on Australian aluminium is bad. It’s a bad idea generally, bad for our exporters, bad for our steel and aluminium industry as a whole because it risks cheap products being dumped here in Australia and if this escalates into a trade war it’s bad for the whole economy.

JAYES: I think over the weekend perhaps there were some in Government that were holding out hopes that we would get an undertaking from the Commerce Secretary that Australia might be exempt from this given the undertaking that Malcolm Turnbull was given when he was in the United States a couple of weeks ago. But that hasn’t eventuated, essentially the argument is being made that the US can’t exempt a country like Australia and not exempt Canada. And once you start making exemptions it’s a slippery slope. They were the words from Navarro when he spoke to CNN a little while ago. Do you accept that that is the case?

CLARE: I’d make two points. First I’d encourage the Prime Minister to pick up the phone today and speak to the President of the United States directly about this. The Prime Minister often talks about the perils of protectionism, well this is a real life example of it. There is an opportunity here for him to pick up the phone and speak directly to the President to seek an exemptions for Australian companies, but also to make the point that if the United States is concerned about the dumping of steel in the US then there are other ways to do this other than imposing a flat 25 percent tariff on all steel from all countries. In fact the Commerce Department’s report had a series of options, one of which is the one the President has taken up, but there are other more targeted options that the President could adopt.

JAYES: Are you comforted by the fact that there could be special product exemptions, so not country wide exemptions but for particular businesses and for particular products? Again it’s my understanding that an undertaking was given to the Turnbull Government that BlueScope Steel for example was not meant to be a target of these tariffs.

CLARE: If that is the case that’s good for the workers down at Port Kembla who work at BlueScope, it’s also good for consumers in the US. If you put a 25 percent tariff on the steel that we export to the US it’s just going to increase the cost of a colorbond roof in California, or a fence or garage door. So consumers end up paying more and that’s why this is such a bad idea. Laura even if BlueScope get an exemption there is still the risk that steel that was going to go to the United States, up to more than 10 million tonnes of flat steel alone which is intended to go to the US, if some of that comes here instead and gets dumped for a cheap price on the Australian market then that exposes a risk not just to BlueScope’s domestic business but all steel producers in Australia.

JAYES: Just staying on BlueScope, BlueScope has one of its most profitable mills in Ohio. It actually produces more steel out of there then I think the Port Kembla plant. So couldn’t this be all good news for a company like BlueScope because if it gets an Australian product exemption and gets this, basically a boost from these trade tariffs with its Ohio steel mill, it could be all good news for them.

CLARE: I’ll let BlueScope speak for themselves. I think it’s right to say that the steel industry in the US is sort of cut down the middle along the Rocky Mountains. The Ohio mill focuses on the East Coast of the US and most of the steel that we produce here, down at Port Kembla and is shipped to the US goes to the West Coast. So a 25 percent tariff on those products, as I said just means more expensive roofs, more expensive fences and more expensive garage doors for US consumers.

If anything the lesson from Australia, the lesson from the Hawke and Keating Governments is that if you want to create more jobs and more economic growth, you cut tariffs, you don’t increase them. Hawke and Keating did it unilaterally, they didn’t wait for the rest of the world. They reduced tariffs and it’s led to the modern 21st century stronger economy that we’ve got today.

JAYES: As you said Jason Clare the main concern is dumping cheap steel from other markets now. We have a strong Anti-Dumping Commission and I know the Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo has sighted this both at his weekend media conference and speaking to David Spears yesterday. Are you confident that the Anti-Dumping Commission is strong enough to do its job in this sense?

CLARE:  Well Laura I set up the Anti-Dumping Commission when I was the Home Affairs Minister and I think it was the right thing to do. We gave it serious teeth – the powers it needs to make sure that if steel is being dumped at below cost price in Australia then they can impose tough anti-dumping measures on the companies that do that. So yes I think the Anti-Dumping Commission is a body that’s got the right powers. We’ve always got to be alert to the risk of dumping and so I hope the Anti-Dumping Commission is on high alert at the moment, and if they need more resources and if they need more powers then it is important that they tell us now because I think the risk of dumping is heightened now in light of what the President announced last week.

JAYES: So short of picking up the phone to Donald Trump, which is a request you’ve made of Malcolm Turnbull today, you believe that the right apparatus, including the Anti-Dumping Commission, is in place at the moment in Australia -There is not really any more that can be done?    

CLARE: I’m not about playing politics here, as you said in the introduction this is an area of public policy where the two major parties work side by side. If the Anti-Dumping Commission needs more resources or needs more powers then it is important that they come forward and let us know. I think it is the right organisation but it does need to be on high alert.

A couple of years ago we had a lot of steel being dumped, the Anti-Dumping Commission was set up, did its job, enforced it well and led to less dumping happening. If the United States is going to impose these tariffs on steel being imported from a number of countries, not just China, I think the biggest importer is Canada, then there is a risk here that that steel will try to find another home and they might look to Australia.

JAYES: Jason Clare thanks so much for your time today.