Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Special Minister of State
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
SABRA LANE: Finance Minister Mathias Cormann was also at last night’s working dinner with Mr Trump and he joined me not long ago from Osaka.
Senator Cormann welcome to AM, you were at that dinner last night. How hard did Australia push for the US to resolve its trade dispute with China?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It was a warm and friendly dinner. We made it very clear, in a friendly and constructive environment that we were very keen to see those trade tensions resolved through a negotiated settlement and one which is consistent with WTO rules and which does not adversely impact on other parties like Australia.
SABRA LANE: Does Mr Trump realise that his push for America first is harming allies?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The United States has raised a series of issues from their perspective for some time. There are some legitimate issues that need to be resolved. Australia certainly supports for example, the need for reform to the WTO to make sure it is fit for purpose for this modern era. The world has changed, trade dynamics have changed, technology has changed, the big emerging economies are not properly catered for in the context of the current WTO framework. There are a whole range of issues that need to be addressed. We certainly support that, but we believe they ought to be resolved in the context of a negotiated outcome and within the rules based system.
SABRA LANE: Mr Trump is due to meet Mr Xi on Saturday, the US President is threatening an extra $300 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports. How helpful are those threats in trying to resolve this?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Australia is on the record as making clear that we do not believe that an extended ongoing trade war is in anybody’s interest. It is not in the interest of the US, it is not in the interest of China, it is certainly not in the interest of Australia. We want to see a commitment to open and free markets, to open engagement and to the multilateral rules based trading system.
SABRA LANE: Has Mr Trump given Australia any assurances?
MATHIAS CORMANN: It was a very constructive and positive discussion. The President will talk for himself. From Australia’s point of view, we have certainly made very clear that we would like to see a negotiated outcome, one that is consistent with WTO rules and one which does not adversely impact on other parties like Australia.
SABRA LANE: How supportive is the President of Australia’s push for a global agreement to crack down on social media companies who are failing to stop the use of their platforms to spread violence?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have raised that issue and it is a matter for discussion at the G20 today. The Prime Minister will make the case that we ought to take, through the G20 stronger measures to ensure that social media companies do not provide a platform for this extremist violent content as we have seen, outrageously have seen, in the context of the Christchurch massacre in recent times.
SABRA LANE: Just on China, Australia as I understand it will not be getting a one on one meeting with Mr Xi. We did not get a hearing last time either in Argentina. Is this a diplomatic cold shoulder aimed at Australia over foreign policy?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Not at all. I have been to the last six G20 Leaders Summits and at the first four, we did not have any bilateral meetings with the US because these bilateral meetings with the United States were happening at other fora. You cannot have a formally scheduled meeting at every G20 with every other country. The Prime Minister and President Xi Jinping will be at the same meeting. I am sure there will be opportunity for them to have an engagement, but there is just not a formal scheduled meeting at this particular G20.
SABRA LANE: Australia is emphasising, as you have earlier, the need to change the World Trade Organisation rules and to reform it. How likely is it by the end of the weekend there will be no change?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We had a very thorough conversation about these matters at the G20 Leaders Summit in Buenos Aires towards the end of last year and there was a broad consensus in favour of reform to the WTO. I think people recognise that the world today is very different to the world when the WTO was first set up. We certainly believe it is very important for there to be effective dispute settlement procedures to be in place through the WTO. There are adjustments that should be made as part of good housekeeping to ensure that we properly cater for the new environment that we find ourselves in.
SABRA LANE: On Iran, has Mr Trump asked Australia for help in the Coalition he is wanting to form against Tehran?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Australia shares the concerns of the international community about Iran moving away from compliance with its obligations under relevant treaties. We continue to apply UN Security Council sanctions and we continue to monitor…interrupted
SABRA LANE: To the question though, has he asked Australia for help?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to go into the specifics of the conversations last night. What I would say is that Australia very much shares the concerns of the international community in relation to Iran’s actions and its non-compliance with relevant international treaties and we will continue to monitor the situation and make judgements as appropriate. As judgements are made and decisions are made, relevant announcements will be made.
SABRA LANE: Mathias Cormann thanks for joining AM.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.