Australia Grain Industry Conference
Could I start by acknowledging Grain Trade Australia for all the wonderful work you do in bringing the grains industry even closer together and can I congratulate you for putting this conference on today.
It’s incredibly important that we continue to support each other throughout this pandemic, and can I just take my hat off to the grains industry for the resilience and hard work you’ve shown throughout the pandemic. You have made sure that Australia remains a leader when it comes to producing grains and to exporting grains.
And I know the future is bright for the grains industry because what you’ve been able to do throughout this pandemic shows that you’ll be able to achieve anything once we get through it.
And getting through the pandemic is the absolute focus of the Morrison Government at the moment. As you’d be all aware, we’ve established a national plan which is set on all the research which has been done by the world-leading Doherty Institute. It sets out how we can open up our nation — and the government is absolutely committed to making sure we implement the national plan so we can open up our nation.
And the national plan sets out two key priorities: the first is for us to get to a vaccination rate of 70 per cent, and then the second is to get a vaccination rate nationally of 80 per cent. And when we achieve that, that means travel outwards can occur again, and it also means that we’ll begin establishing even more bubbles than we have at the moment. The one with New Zealand is the one we have in existence, but we’ll be looking at the Pacific Islands, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, the US, the UK and many more so we can begin to travel again.
But the important message for today is to make sure that we continue to get vaccinated, because that’s how we will continue to ensure that we can get access to those overseas markets that we all cherish; that we can make sure that our customers can come to Australia and we can continue to build those key relationships that we need so that we can continue to trade our grain.
When I became Australia’s Trade Minister just before Christmas last year I sat down and worked out what would be the approach that I would take, and it was based on three important principles. First, that we’d be proactive; second, that we would be principled; and third, that we would take a very patient approach, where necessary.
Now, why those three Ps? Well, to start with, the world that we live in now is an incredibly challenging one. The geostrategic environment has changed. It’s much more uncertain. So that means we have to be proactive about how we go after new markets and make sure we’re continuing to consolidate our traditional markets.
It’s why, for instance, we set the challenge of negotiating the UK Free Trade Agreement in the quickest time we’ve ever negotiated a free trade agreement — and we are on track to achieving that. Our Prime Ministers, both the UK and Australia’s Prime Ministers, agreed in principle to an FTA in May, and at the moment I’m busy working with Liz Truss to make sure that we have an agreed 6 to 700-page text which we can sign by the end of October. Making it the quickest free trade agreement we’ve ever done.
It’s why we’re pressing on with our free trade agreement with the European Union. We’re about to embark on the 12th round of negotiations. It’s a heavyweight bout, but it’s going to be incredibly important, and we’re confident by the middle of next year we should be able to finalise the EU FTA, giving more important access for grains to the European Union, like we’ve been able to do with the UK FTA, especially when it comes to rice.
In terms of other opportunities, we’re pursuing openings with India. I wrote to my Indian counterpart in July setting out a way that we could really evolve and enhance the relationship economically and look to speed up an FTA.
Australia’s former Prime Minister Tony Abbott travelled to India not long after, at my request, and met with the Indian Prime Minister and the Indian Trade Minister to see if he could progress these discussions as well. And following his visit, I met with my counterpart Piyush Goyal and we’ve agreed to really speed things up when it comes to a free trade agreement with India.
We’re going to put more resources to it, and my hope is we’ll be able to achieve some sort of outcome by the end of the year, which will then pave the way for us to be able to finalise something the following year. So, this progresses at speed and hopefully we can get the outcome because, as we all know, especially for grains, the opportunities in the Indian market are extensive.
We also continue to build our relationship when it comes to our important markets – Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, the US – to make sure that they continue to be in good shape. And, of course, we want to make sure that we continue to do what we can when it comes to the Chinese market. This is where the patient part comes in.
In January I wrote to my counterpart setting out the ways that we could work together to enhance a very complementary trading relationship that we had with China. I’m still waiting for a response to that letter. But I’ll continue to be patient in waiting for that response and I’ll continue to keep sending the very clear message that we want constructive engagement with the Chinese Government.
We want a constructive relationship. It’s important for China – over 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty as a result of them opening up their economy, of joining the World Trade Organisation, of adhering to world rules when it comes to trade.
And when it comes to Australia, it’s helped us maintain our standard of living. So, we will continue to pursue that relationship. We will continue to send that message that we want constructive engagement. But in the meantime, we’ll continue to be proactive looking at other opportunities, and that’s what we will continue to do.
And everything we will do will be principled. We’ll continue to ensure that when it comes to the World Trade Organisation we’re an active player in setting those very important global trading rules, especially when it comes to agriculture.
We continue to chair the Cairns Group, we continue to advocate for a reduction when it comes to production subsidies for agriculture, and in the lead-up to MC12, at the end of this year, we continue to use the Cairns Group to try and make sure we can get the most ambitious outcome we possibly can at that meeting.
Now, it’s hard - it’s very hard - because there is entrenched protectionism in agriculture. But we will continue fighting because we believe it is absolutely crucial for our farmers that we use the World Trade Organisation, that we use our bilateral FTAs, that we use regional groupings like APEC, like the OECD, like the CPTPP to push for greater liberalisation when it comes to agriculture and we will continue to do that.
We will also take a very principled approach when we feel that we have been harmed by others’ unfair actions, and that is why we took the dispute we currently have in the World Trade Organisation with China on barley to the WTO. Because we believe that the actions that the Chinese Government have taken has impacted, unfairly, our barley growers and we will continue to pursue that case through the WTO.
Panels have been established and we will continue to finalise a panel so that that hearing can begin as quickly as it possibly can. We know it’s going to take some time. We know it will take probably over two years, but the principle of it is incredibly important because a country like Australia, if we do not advocate for a rules-based system we then find ourselves at the behest of the law of the jungle where much bigger players can dictate the rules and potentially cause us economic harm as a result.
So, we will continue to make sure that we are an active participant in the World Trade Organisation, that we encourage all other countries to be active participants when it comes to the WTO because it is so, so important.
When it comes to the broader environment that you operate in as well – the domestic environment – we also want to be making sure that we’re doing everything we can to help and support you.
We want to make sure that there is the access to labour that you need, and that’s why the Government in the last few months has announced an incredible breakthrough where we will be establishing an agricultural visa so that you can get the labour force that you need when it comes to harvest, when it comes to getting the grains to market, that you need.
Now, this came as a result of our UK Free Trade Agreement where we were able to for, the first time, negotiate as part of that free trade agreement that we would have a specific ag visa as part of that FTA. And not only that, that we would seek to broaden it because we made some changes to the working holiday visa rules. So, now we are working at speed to put in place an ag visa which will support the sector across the board.
We’re looking at bilateral partnerships for this visa. Obviously, we have the Pacific labour scheme which is working very well, but we want to move and look at other countries where we can put in place a bilateral relationship so that we can use this ag visa to bring in workers where we need them and, in the industries, we need them.
And one of the most important things about this ag visa is that over time, and depending on the time that the worker spends assisting and helping and supporting our agriculture industry by working in the sector, they will be able to get permanent residency, a key breakthrough when it comes to this agricultural visa.
So, in summary, we want to continue to work with you to ensure that you remain a world leader when it comes to the production of grains, when it comes to the exporting of grains.
We understand how important it is that you can get access to markets when and where you need them. We understand how important it is when we’re on the end of economic coercion that you can get access to new markets, like we’ve been able to achieve with barley to Mexico, with barley to Saudi Arabia, by expanding the markets that we can trade to, giving us new opportunities and making sure that where we might be harmed, we have the opportunity to be able to go elsewhere to sell our produce.
We want to make sure that the global trading rules continue to be at the centre of the world trading system, and we will continue to actively fight for that, especially through the Cairns Group in the WTO.
We want to make sure that we continue to pursue opportunities when it comes to bilateral FTAs, like we have with the UK, like we are with the EU, like we are with India.
And we want to make sure that the domestic operating environment for you is as good as it possibly can.
That’s why we’ve got a national plan to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. And it’s why we continue to put in place policies like the agricultural visa which will enable you to get access to that important labour that you need to continue to develop and grow your industry.
So good luck with the conference.
Thanks to Grain Trade Australia again for putting it on. And I look forward to working with you as you continue to develop and grow what is a world-leading grain sector in this country.
And please, never hesitate to get in touch if there’s anything that I can do to help and support you as we come out of this pandemic.
Thanks very much.