Turnbull touches down in US ahead of trade, security talks with Trump

The prime minister said it would be great if the US rejoined the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but doubts Mr Trump can be convinced. SBS chief political corespondent Brett Mason is on the ground in Washington.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has touched down in Washington, marking the start of the highest profile visit to the United States by an Australian leader in more than a decade.

Malcolm Turnbull is being accompanied on his three-day trip by the largest Australian political and business delegation to ever visit America, including the Premiers of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia.

They’ll be joined by some of the nation’s highest profile business leaders, including Lachlan Murdoch, Andrew Forrest, Kerry Stokes, Anthony Pratt, Qantas Chairman Leigh Clifford, Rio Tinto Chief Executive Officer Jean Sebastien-Jacques and Commonwealth Bank boss Ian Narev.

Together, the companies represent more than a quarter of a trillion dollars on the Australian Stock Exchange.

TPP re-entry unlikely for the US, says Turnbull  

President Trump’s seemingly softening opposition to America re-joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be the focus of what the Prime Minister believes will be a “frank, one-to-one discussion” when the two leaders meet privately in the Oval Office on Friday.

But Mr Turnbull said it remained unlikely the protectionist “America-first” president would be convinced to join the massive free-trade pact.

“It would be great if the US were able to re-join, but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon,” Mr Turnbull told Sky News ahead of his departure on Wednesday.

“But we’ve structured the TPP-11 so other countries can dock in, and there’s plenty of interest by the way, including even from the UK,” he said.

President Trump formally withdrew the United States from the TPP during his first week in office, having called the 11-nation trade pact a “disaster” and the “rape of our country” during his Presidential campaign.

A group of 25 Republican senators, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, last week wrote to the President calling on him to “re-engage with the Trans-Pacific Partnership” in order to “fully unleash America’s potential”.

The senators believe that re-joining the TPP would significantly boost US exports and stimulate wage growth.

The Prime Minister is currently lobbying Labor and cross bench Senators to support his government’s plan for similar Trump-style concessions, slashing the corporate tax rate from 30 per cent to 25 per cent by 2026.

Security talks to focus on North Korea, terror

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his visit would focus on the “twin themes” of trade and security, including increasing tensions in the Asia-Pacific region as a result of a more assertive China and North Korea’s growing nuclear ambitions.

“Keeping Australians and Americans safe is the first priority of an Australian prime minister and a US president,” Mr Turnbull said.

The prime minister told Sky News that he and Mr Trump would be “spending a lot of time” discussing the ongoing threat of conflict breaking out on the Korean peninsula, along with the challenge of combatting Islamic terrorism in both the Middle East and Asia.

The talks also follow the recent hiring of Harry Harris as US Ambassador to Australia. Admiral Harris is the former military commander of the US Pacific Command and a well-known China hawk.  

But Mr Turnbull said Australia did not consider China an adversary in the region.

“We do not see any hostile intent from China,” he told Sky. “So we do not describe China as a threat.”

High-profile meetings to include US state governors

Mr Turnbull will meet some of the Trump administration’s highest-ranking officials, including Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Chair of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford.  

On Saturday, Mr Turnbull will use his keynote speech to the National Governor’s Association Winter Meeting to call for greater trade and business partnerships between US states and Australia, before immediately flying home to Canberra arriving in time for Parliament to resume on Monday morning.

In a statement, the White House said, “President Trump looks forward to further enhancing our partnership and alliance, and demonstrating our shared commitment to the democratic values that underpin peace and prosperity around the world.”

“The President and Prime Minister will discuss a range of shared bilateral, regional, and global priorities, including fighting terrorism, promoting economic growth, and expanding security and defence co-operation in the Indo-Pacific region.

“The leaders will celebrate 100 years of mateship through war, peace, and prosperity, charting the course for the coming century of partnership."

It is the first official visit to America by an Australian Prime Minister since John Howard was invited to Washington by President George W Bush in 2006.

Malcolm Turnbull last visited the Oval Office in 2016, to meet with President Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.

With embattled Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce on personal leave following the fallout of his affair with a junior female staff member and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop away on official business in London – Finance Minister and Leader of the Government in the Senate Mathias Cormann is acting as prime minister until Mr Turnbull touches returns to Canberra early Monday morning.

It is the first time since 2008 that a Senator has performed the role of Acting Prime Minister.

Senator Cormann said his Belgian parents heard their son was going to briefly act as leader of Australia through the Belgian media “before I got to them”.

Published 22 February 2018 at 10:28am, updated 22 February 2018 at 8:29pm
By Brett Mason