Joe Hockey and Donald Trump.
Joe Hockey and Donald Trump.

Joe Hockey’s surprising swing at Trump

AUSTRALIA'S Ambassador to the United States, Joe Hockey, has slapped down Donald Trump with a surprisingly blunt critique of his policies.

Mr Hockey is usually stubbornly diplomatic. He has built an effective relationship with Mr Trump during his time in Washington, golfing with the President and generally avoiding any public criticism.

He has even faced questions back home in Australia for being too eager to co-operate with Mr Trump's investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, which is widely seen as an effort to discredit the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller.

During Senate estimates this week, we learned Mr Hockey offered Australia's full co-operation before the US administration had even asked for it.

But in a speech overnight, first reported on by Nine newspapers, Mr Hockey went on the attack against Mr Trump's "baffling" trade policies, warning tariffs and isolationism would eventually backfire on the United States.

"The US must not allow itself to walk away from its trade leadership role, otherwise it will inevitably pay a very significant economic price," he said.

"Being open to the world made America great in the first place. It will keep you great."

That's an obvious reference to Mr Trump's 2016 campaign slogan, "Make American Great Again".

Under Mr Trump's leadership, the United States has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral trade deal previously championed by Barack Obama.

It has also imposed a number of tariffs, which have resulted in a prolonged trade war with the world's second-largest economy, China.

The President has said trade wars are "good and easy to win", and he maintains the tariffs do not harm American consumers or producers.

Mr Hockey directly contradicted him.

"I understand the reasons for his frustrations. Australia supports both free and fair trade. But these types of measures are not a sustainable long term solution," he said.

"Let's be really clear. Tariffs are taxes imposed by governments on their own people. Quotas are access limits placed by governments on their own people."

He also shot down Mr Trump's fixation on America's trade deficits with other countries.

"I have heard suggestions, and perhaps you have heard them too, that to 'win' in trade with another country, you need to sell more to them than you buy from them. That is, you should have a trade surplus. I disagree," Mr Hockey said.

"The argument put by protectionists in favour of tariffs and quotas is akin to saying that instead of spending my time working for my employer, I should make my own food and sew my own clothes. Trust me, no one wants that."

More broadly, Mr Hockey said critics of free trade were arguing based on "sentimentality and fear, rather than hope and opportunity".

"The sensible middle ground of society understands that when we trade freely with other nations, our nation gets richer. Protectionism discourages growth and rewards mediocrity. Consumers pay more for the average, rather than less for the best," he said.

"The United States is the most innovative nation on earth but, like every market leader, it will be beaten if it thinks it can do it all on its own."

Mr Hockey's tenure as US Ambassador ends in January. He will be replaced by another Liberal politician, Arthur Sinodinos, who is resigning from the Senate so he can take on the new role.