Australia will seek out alternative free trade agreements in the region should the Trans-Pacific Partnership fail to pass a US Congress vote, the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, has said.
Bishop made the comments while addressing reporters in Washington, where she has met representatives for US presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. She will also meet the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and attend US president Barack Obama’s leaders’ summit on refugees in New York.
Clinton and Trump oppose the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying the deal is not in the US interest. However Obama is committed to passing the agreement through the Congress and Senate before his term ends.
Bishop said she had urged the Trump and Clinton camps to view the deal as “not only economically important but strategically vital for our region”.
“I had a fairly sympathetic hearing from all of the representatives who see that free trade is the basis of US economic success,” she said.
“Countries like Australia need to continue to press the case for liberalised trade and I believe the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a comprehensive high quality agreement that will be of benefit to the people of United States in appropriating more jobs and economic growth.”
If Obama failed to pass the agreement and her appeals to the presidential candidates proved unsuccessful, Bishop said Australia would be looking for other free trade agreements “and continuing our quest for a free trade zone in this part of the world, in the Asia-Pacific”.
“There is the regional comprehensive economic partnership that is being promoted by the ASEAN countries of south-east Asia, but we still want to see the Trans-Pacific Partnership pass through the US Congress and we’re certainly urging both the Clinton and the Trump camps to do just that,” she said.
“But in the meantime, president Obama has made it clear that he will seek to pass it through the period from the presidential election through to the inauguration.”
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, is also in Washington meeting US officials. Asked by reporters whether Labor would support the deal, Shorten said the opposition would wait to see if the US ratified the accord and also for the findings of Australia’s Senate inquiry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership before endorsing it.
Bishop was also pressed by reporters about who Australia would be supporting for the UN Secretary-General position, after the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, declined in July to endorse the former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd for the role. Bishop had supported Rudd’s nomination, though she did not endorse his campaign.
“We haven’t made a decision because there are still a number of opportunities for other candidates to put their names forward and I imagine that over the coming weeks we’ll see more candidates, not less,” she said.
Asked whether she would be meeting Rudd in New York, she replied: “I haven’t planned to but if he’s here I’ll see him.”
Bishop also said she had not heard about comments made by the far-right Liberal-National MP George Christensen this week that Australia should stop taking immigrants from countries experiencing violent extremism and that did not “share Australian values”.
However, she said she did not agree with him.
“I believe we should have an open and transparent immigration system,” she said.
“We certainly don’t discriminate but we ensure that all necessary steps in terms of health, security, safety and character tests and checks are carried out.”
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