LBC: Brexit "Australian-style"

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
RADIO INTERVIEW
LBC LONDON
13 DECEMBER 2020
Topics: Brexit, trade
Tom Swarbrick
Whether it’s an Australian style deal in terms of a trading relationship or an Australian style points based immigration system, we seem to be imitating Australia in all sorts of different ways not least with the frequency of our prime ministers. Let’s turn to a former Australian Prime Minister. Kevin Rudd joins us who served as PM from December 2007 to June 2010 and then again from June to September 2013. He is also president of the Asia Society. Very good to have you on the program this morning, Prime Minister Rudd. When it comes to an Australia style deal, then tell us the terms on which Australia trades with the EU and how it benefits Australia.
Kevin Rudd
Well, the bottom line: we like every other country, which is not a member of the European Union or which doesn’t have a bilateral free trade agreement with the European Union. We simply trade, on let’s call it, open World Trade Organization lines. That is, there are no particular preferences. We have one or two smaller agreements with the European Union covering aspects of the wine trade, for example, but that’s about it. And it’s for those reasons, that is the disadvantages of the current, let’s call it, WTO trading relationship we have in Brussels, that Australia for the last several years has been trying to negotiate its own free trade agreement with Brussels. That process is underway and that’s because there are impediments to our trading interests under the existing arrangement.
Tom Swarbrick
Is the EU, in those discussions, is the EU asking Australia to sign up to rules that could change and asking Australia to follow those rules, regardless of whether they have a say of over it, in perpetuity?
Kevin Rudd
These negotiations are very much still underway. The final negotiating positions of Brussels, and for that matter Canberra, is not in the public domain yet. But with all such negotiations, you will understand that the Europeans being the larger economy as they’ve done recently in their negotiations with Canada will have a number of bottom lines. These will be to do with labour standards, environmental standards, and the sorts of things, climate standards, the sorts of things that you would normally associate with the European Union.
Tom Swarbrick
Presumably you couldn’t, Mr Rudd, if you were the Prime Minister now, sign Australia up to take rules from another organisation based on access to its market?
Kevin Rudd
No, I’ve seen some of the debate in the United Kingdom, for example, whereby it’s proposed, as I understand it, that for any agreement with Brussels, ministers of the Crown in the United Kingdom have the opportunity to unilaterally opt out of certain provisions in the future. That’s not how international trade law works. And certainly not how bilateral free trade agreements work. Although I would say in general terms without wishing to dig myself into the ditches of domestic British politics is: we in Australia, do not find our current trading relationship with Brussels satisfactory. That’s why both sides of Australian politics, myself from the Labor Party and the conservatives here, have sought to negotiate a new, much more liberal, bilateral free trade agreement with Brussels which would be better for Australian exporters, particularly in agriculture, but beyond agriculture, in services as well.
Tom Swarbrick
So is it a case of the UK needing to be careful what it wishes for here?
Kevin Rudd
Well, look, you’ve got your own debate running there. My own personal position as a friend of the United Kingdom for a long period of time — I’m often there, we spend a fair bit of time in the UK, many friends in British politics on both sides of British politics — we want Britain to succeed. That’s the Australian view of the United Kingdom. And my long standing view is that Brexit is madness, period, from a British perspective. Europe is much stronger by having Britain in it, and Britain is much stronger for being in Europe. But now that you’ve decided to have a divorce, the terms of this divorce, I firmly believe will be best executed on the basis of a negotiated deal. An untidy divorce is bad for Britain, bad for Europe and bad for the West.
Tom Swarbrick
Do you think Britain’s place in the world is diminished by Brexit whatever type of Brexit we get?
Kevin Rudd
My honest analytical view is that Britain, in the eyes of the United States, where I have run a think tank for the last five years, the Asia Society Policy Institute, which focuses primarily on US-Asia, US-China relations, but we’re mindful of the transatlantic relationship. My view is that the view from Washington, both sides of the aisle, mainstream Republicans and Democrats, is that Britain is a much more important country in the world by virtue of having been in Europe. And the logic of that covers so many other dimensions of the relationship, not just in economic, trade, investment and technology terms, but in foreign policy and national security terms as well. And I think it’s a retrograde step, period. Given you’ve taken it, however, I am strongly of the view that given that the divorce is underway, make it as tidy as possible so that the relationship with Brussels can be as seamless as possible for the future. There’s 450 million people in Europe, there’s 50 or 60 million of you in the UK, and the mathematics tends to speak for itself.
Tom Swarbrick
Well, one of the things the British government is very keen to do once it is outside the customs union is to negotiate trading arrangements with other countries around the world. And we’ve seen some of those continuity arrangements agreed upon via the trade secretary. And one country that is looked at in particular, and I think, indeed, the Foreign Secretary is due to go there shortly is India and the talk about a possible trading relationship, trade free trade agreement, with India as being a a very good thing for the UK economy. How likely do you think that is? Oh, we seem to have lost the line to Canberra or wherever it is that Prime Minister Rudd is speaking to us from. We’ll try and re-establish that because I’m keen to get his view on what else the UK could do once outside the customs union and therefore, potentially able to strike its own trade deals. We’ll see if we can get the line back to Prime Minister Rudd in just a few months… I’ve got Prime Minister Rudd back on the line. I’m sorry about the drop off there, Kevin. I was just asking about the potential trade deal with India between the UK and India now that the UK is out of the customs union, and whether that would be ultimately beneficial for the UK and how likely that would be?
Kevin Rudd
Well, of all the arguments I’ve seen from the Brexiteers, as I wrote in the British media last year, I think that’s the biggest bucket of bollocks I have heard so far.
Tom Swarbrick
Ah, right. Apologies for the language.
Kevin Rudd
The reason being is that the Indian commerce ministry, which I know very well from my own dealings with them over a long period of time, I launched the Australia-India Free Trade Agreement negotiations in 2009. They are nowhere near a conclusion in 2020 than they were back then. India could not even bring itself to join the so-called ASEF agreement, the regional free trade agreement in East Asia recently, which is a much lower-quality Free Trade Agreement than the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And that’s because protectionism and mercantilism are alive and well in the Indian government, particularly since India has come under domestic…
Tom Swarbrick
Oh, we’ve lost it again! It seems so. As one of the things that we could do perhaps once we’ve once we got through this Brexit mess is to get better technological communications between the UK and Australia, that might help. Kevin Rudd, listen, I’m very great grateful for your time, apologies that we we’ve had troubles with the line.