Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop was choosing her words carefully after taking a call from US Vice President Mike Pence and in the aftermath of another tumultuous day for the Trump administration.
Bishop, in Los Angeles on Thursday for G’Day USA events, talked up the long, strong bond Australia and the US has shared and the confidence she has it will continue with US President Donald Trump.
But, she gave few details away about negotiations on multiple issues that could damage that long bond including the fate of a deal to send asylum seekers held on Nauru and Manus Island to the US, the future of the US-Australia free trade agreement and the potential scrapping of America’s visa waiver program for US-bound Australians.
“It was a very positive and genuine discussion and I look forward to working with Vice President Pence and other members of the Trump administration,” said Bishop, talking to reporters after her phone call with Pence.
Fears of a US-Mexico trade war flared on Thursday when a meeting between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was called off after contrasting views on who should pay for a border wall between their nations.
Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer raised the prospect of a 20 per cent tax being slapped on not only Mexican products entering the US, but from other nations including Australia.
The Trump administration later backtracked on that.
“It is not a matter that has been raised in any discussions we have had with the new Trump administration,” Bishop, when asked about a potential 20 per cent tax on Australian exports to the US, said.
Trump this week scrapped US involvement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal with Australia and 10 other Pacific nations.
Trump has also vowed to examine every trade deal the US has and negotiate better deals for America, but Bishop said the current US-Australia free trade agreement favoured the US.
“There has certainly been no indication at all the administration is looking to renegotiate the Australian-US free trade agreement,” Bishop said.
Bishop also talked up the prospect of Australia pursuing bilateral free trade agreements with three TPP members – Mexico, Peru and Canada.
The deal to resettle asylum-seekers held on Nauru and Manus Island was negotiated when Barack Obama was president, but it could be in danger with Trump’s arrival in the White House and his stance on stemming the flow of refugees to the US, particularly from the Middle-East.
“I believe that the US and Australia will continue to work together to assist each other in implementing our strong border protection policies,” said Bishop, responding to repeated questions on the issue without giving details.
Trump is considering ending the visa waiver program that allows Australian, New Zealand and citizens from 30 or so other nations to easily enter the US for visits.
Travellers to the US may be forced to sit for an in-person interview with a US official before they are allowed to travel to America.
It is part of a Trump administration proposal designed at strengthening America’s borders, but it would likely have a large negative impact on tourism in the US, Australia and other countries.
“We will certainly be working with the US to ensure that Australians continue to have access to the US as Americans have access to Australia,” Bishop said.