Interview with David Speers – Sky News – Wednesday, 21 November 2018


SUBJECTS: WTO reform, China’s status as a developing nation, Israel embassy, Indonesia FTA, Varghese Report, Islamic leaders turning down meeting with Morrison.
SPEERS: Jason Clare thanks for joining us this afternoon. A lot to touch on the trade front, if we can begin there. We saw the APEC leaders failed to reach agreement on a final communique – the weekend. Next weekend it’ll be President Trump sitting down with the Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 in Argentina. A lot at stake on the trade war between the U.S. and China right now. One of the issues seems to be the US push to reform the World Trade Organisation. Do you agree there needs to be some reform of the WTO?
CLARE: I think most people do. I think almost everybody says the WTO needs to be reformed if it is going to remain relevant in the years ahead. Where the debate is, is what are the reforms that are necessary and how do you get them implemented.
SPEERS: Well what do you think? What particular parts of the WTO do you reckon need some change?
CLARE: One of the most pressing is getting the Appellate Body to work properly. President Trump has made the decision that because he doesn’t like some of the decisions have been made by the Appellate Body he’s refusing to appoint, or vetoing appointments to that body. There’s a risk there that that body is going to rush to a screeching halt unless there are more judges appointed to that body to make decisions. Resolving disputes is an important part of the WTO so those appointments have got to be made. There’s a legitimate question to be asked about how do you reform its operation. How do you appeal decisions by it? And they’re the sorts of questions that were asked at a forum that was hosted by Canada – I think a month or so ago – that Australia attended.
There’s also some legitimate questions about how does the WTO get reform in an environment where you can’t get every country in the world, or every country that’s a member of the WTO to agree. So you will remember David the Doha round crashed. But in the absence of an agreement that covers everything for everybody, Craig Emerson when he was Trade Minister said why don’t we try and deal with these issues chapter by chapter. Recently the WTO did that with trade facilitation and that was a big agreement that has got a lot of countries in it, that will have a lot of benefit for a lot of countries. I think there’s a good argument that the WTO should focus more on doing things like that.
SPEERS: One of the big concerns that the US has but also countries like Australia is intellectual property theft by China. Is this part of the changes to the WTO that should go ahead to give more power and maybe this gets to the issues you’re touching on there with the way appeals are dealt with, to actually stop China’s theft of IP.
CLARE: This might be an issue for the WTO. It could just as likely be one of the issues that China and the United States are thrashing out at the moment. You mentioned the meeting in Port Moresby over the weekend and the strong language, the chest beating, that happened between China and the United States there. This is all in the context of a pretty ferocious trade war happening in front of us. I think when the government says we’d like them to sort it out they speak on behalf of most of the world. These are two superpowers that represent almost half the world’s economy so the sooner they sort it out the better. But I was heartened that at the same time that was happening in our region the President made some remarks over the weekend out of D.C. saying that the Chinese Government had written to him with an offer to make about 142 different changes to the way in which trade happens between China and the United States. Now I know that the US has said IP and foreign investment are big issues for them, they are legitimate grievances. It may be – I don’t know – but it may be that they are amongst the issues that China and the United States are trying to thrash out, if not before the G20 meeting next week then hopefully in the months ahead.
SPEERS: One of the other issues here is whether China is regarded under WTO rules as a developed or a developing country. What do you think China is right now?
CLARE: China is different from place to place isn’t it. You know if you go to Shanghai or Beijing it’s very different to Western China. One of the tricky things here is the way the WTO works is countries define themselves and so two thirds of countries define themselves as developing. Countries like Singapore for example define themselves as developing. I’m not sure if there’s a quick fix here or not. I’ve written to the Trade Minister asking for a full briefing on the discussions that took place at APEC so I can get a better grip on what’s possible here. But I do know that Summit that happened in Canada only last month looked at this issue as well. I mentioned that trade facilitation agreement that the WTO was able to strike only recently, it had ideas about how to solve this as well. So it may be possible to make progress here but we’ll have to wait and see.
SPEERS: Couple of other things. The free trade agreement with Indonesia clearly has been held up with Morrison government still weighing up what it’s going to do with Australia’s embassy in Israel. Does Labor support this free trade agreement with Indonesia?
CLARE: Well I’ve been calling – you know we started negotiations I guess is the place to focus first under Craig Emerson as Trade Minister. We initiated that work because we desperately need to boost trade with Indonesia. We trade more with New Zealand than we do with Indonesia. New Zealand is a very important country it’s a population though of 4.5 million. Indonesia has got a population of 270 million. Our nearest neighbour but we barely look over the fence and so if a free trade agreement can help us with that then then that’s a good thing.  But it’s not going to be enough in itself. This government has commissioned a study by Peter Varghese the former head of DFAT on ways to build more trade with India. It’s a good practical report which we’ve endorsed.  You could do the same thing with Indonesia as well because whilst a free trade agreement helps to open doors we need Aussie companies to walk through them and some of the practical ideas that might come with a Varghese style report could help to make sure that we maximize the benefit of an agreement as well.
SPEERS: I’d like to come to India in a tick because the Indian President is in Australia as well right now but just on Indonesia we know Labor balked a bit at the TPP-11 deal. Is the Indonesian free trade agreement what you understand of it something you are happy to support? Can you say that at the moment?
CLARE: This goes to the problem with free trade agreements. We haven’t seen it yet. I’ve set out a number of reforms we’d make if we win the next election to try and get rid of the veil of secrecy over trade agreements. The Parliament should have a better idea about what’s in these agreements before they’re signed. Industry should have a bigger role as well. We want to take the US model where companies and unions and civil society groups are accredited to look at the draft text and provide feedback as well. We think they should be independently economically modelled, we’ve talked about this before David. I haven’t seen the detail so when we get the detail we’ll go through it. Unfortunately we’re in the midst of this right royal stuff up over moving an embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Prime Minister knows he’s made a mistake but he’s got a problem on his hands because if he walks back as we know he’ll do by Christmas he’s going to have an even bigger problem amongst the right wing nut jobs in his own party who don’t want him to backtrack on this.
SPEERS: Well let’s leave that issue to one side. India you mentioned there the fact that this Varghese report the former head of the Foreign Affairs Department Peter Varghese completed this report and handed it to the government back in July. Looking at how we can improve trade relations with India. Now there’s a bunch of recommendations in it. It basically says there are 10 sectors where Australia has a competitive advantage that India needs. You know these sorts of things that we can sell. What would be some steps you think Australia should be taking to try and a free trade agreement may be way down the track but right now what can we do to improve trade relations with what is going to be a huge economic power over the coming years?
CLARE: Well look I think it’s fair to say that Australia and Australian businesses have looked north rather than looking north west.  Trade for example with China has quadrupled over the last 10 years but over the same period there has been patches where trade with India has actually gone backwards. So more Australian businesses looking at the opportunities that present themselves and focusing on some of the areas that Peter’s mentioned where there is real opportunity. Think about education. We often think about that in terms of Indian students coming to study in Australia. But Modi said that he needs to train up about 122 million Indians in vocational skills between now and 2022. Their own version of the TAFE system will only train up about 7 million a year. So their own system will only train up about 30 million he needs to train up another 122 million. Now that tells you there’s a great opportunity for Australian vocational providers, organisations like TAFE as well to get in there and provide a service like that. If we don’t other countries from the US, Canada or Europe will take that place.
SPEERS: Can I turn finally Jason Clare away from the trade front to today’s news that a group of about nine Islamic leaders including the Grand Mufti are boycotting a meeting with the Prime Minister this week. They’re accusing Scott Morrison of alienating segments of the Muslim community with his comments after the Bourke Street attack in Melbourne. What do you think? Did Scott Morrison go too far in his language and should these Islamic leaders still attend the meeting?
CLARE: I would always encourage people when there’s an opportunity to sit down face to face with the leaders of our country whether it’s the Prime Minister or the Opposition Leader to do exactly that. Nothing beats dialogue. If you’ve got a difference of opinion then tell the person face to face but never walk away from an opportunity to talk to the Prime Minister of Australia about the issues that you’ve got. And so if people have decided to boycott it I think that’s a mistake. Take the opportunity and tell the Prime Minister what you think.
SPEERS: And what do you think? You represent an electorate with one of the highest proportions of Muslim Australians. Do you think Scott Morrison’s language after the Bourke Street attack went too far or was it appropriate?
CLARE: Well I’d make the general point that we’ve all got a special responsibility here to take action to make sure our communities are safe. As political leaders we’ve got that responsibility. Religious leaders have got that responsibility. Community leaders have got that responsibility as well. I’ve often said that teachers have got a special role and doctors have got a special role here too. If you can identify people that are in trouble that are likely to go off the rails and do something stupid like that lunatic in Bourke Street then you’ve got to know you’ve got a responsibility to report it. So you know that’s the point I’d emphasize is it’s the responsibility of everybody here to take action to keep our community safe.