Australia snubs US by backing China push for Asian trade deal

Posted on November 16, 2016

Australia is throwing its weight behind China’s efforts to pursue new trade deals in the Asia-Pacific region amid a growing acknowledgement the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is dead in the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory.

Steven Ciobo, Australia’s trade minister, told the Financial Times that Canberra would work to conclude new agreement among 16 Asian and Pacific countries that excludes the US.

He said Australia would also support a separate proposal, the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific, which Beijing hopes to advance at this week’s Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Peru.

“Any move that reduces barriers to trade and helps us facilitate trade, facilitate exports and drive economic growth and employment is a step in the right direction,” Mr Ciobo said Wednesday.

Mr Trump put opposition to the TPP, which the US and 11 other countries agreed to this year, at the heart of his presidential campaign and his election has all but killed the prospects of its ratification by the US Congress. This has offered Beijing, which was excluded from the pact, an opportunity to argue for faster adoption of the broader FTAAP, a move foreign policy analysts say would strengthen China’s influence in the region. 

Australia’s decision to back China’s vision comes amid soul-searching in Australia about the impact a Trump presidency will have on its long-established military and strategic alliance with Washington. 

On Wednesday the opposition Labor party said Mr Trump’s election marked a “change point” requiring a careful consideration of Australia’s foreign policy and global interests. It is calling for more engagement with Australia’s Asian partners, although the party says the US-Australian alliance is bigger than any one person and will endure a Trump presidency. 


Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull meets Xi Jinping, China’s president, in September © Getty

Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, has reassured the public that the alliance will continue under Mr Trump. After phoning the billionaire to congratulate him on his election victory, Mr Turnbull told reporters Mr Trump would view the world in “a very practical and pragmatic way”.

Australia’s military alliance with the US dates back to 1951 when both countries signed the Anzus treaty, along with New Zealand. However, Australian troops have fought alongside US forces in every major military conflict since the second world war.

James Curran, a professor at Sydney University and author of a new book on the Australia-US alliance, said the elevation of Mr Trump to the White House would test the alliance but would survive his presidency. 

“Labor’s call for a rethink shows they might finally be rediscovering the foreign policy tradition of the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating era, which stressed greater freedom of movement for Australia within and at times without the alliance,” he said. “The apocalyptic view that the alliance will fall apart is alarmist.” 

Mr Ciobo said he would not comment on whether US failure to ratify the TPP would undermine Washington’s influence in the region. He said he had sought a bilateral meeting with the US trade representatives at the Apec meeting in Peru to advocate ratification of the TPP. 

“Australia does not shy away from being an advocate about the multitude of benefits that flow from liberalising trade,” he said. “If the TPP does not come into effect it will mean there will be higher barriers to trade, which of course means you have a more subdued trading environment.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login