Australian British Chamber of Commerce
Dan Tehan: Can I also acknowledge the traditional owners on the land upon which we meet. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and future. Can I acknowledge the High Commissioner. It’s great to see you again and thank you for the work you’re doing on behalf of Australia-UK relations, it’s greatly appreciated. The new consul, welcome, and I hope to give you plenty of work to do over the coming couple of years if we can nail this Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement. Can I acknowledge the Australian-British Chamber of Commerce, and Andrew and David in particular. Thank-you for the work you do on behalf of the relationship, it’s incredibly important and thank-you for your valued support and advice to me throughout this process as well—and to the work that you’ve been doing behind the scenes. It’s- it can’t be underestimated and please keep it going as we spring, hopefully, towards getting a conclusion in early June. Can I acknowledge Helen Coonan, former minister in the Federal Government. Thank-you for your hospitality today, Helen, in this magnificent building and can I say to everyone who’s been involved with the construction of this building, well done, including a former work colleague of mine who’s here today.
So it’s terrific to be here and, can I say, what a difference six weeks makes. If I had have been standing here before you six weeks ago, I don’t think I would have been as upbeat as I am today. Because we were negotiating the free trade agreement, but it would be fair to say that we were negotiating at a pace, and we were getting the outcomes, which would have meant that this agreement probably would have been finalised in about 12 months’ time. But, by being able to hop on a plane and travel to the UK, we were able to speed this process up, but we’re not at the stage where, all going well, we should be able to get an in principle agreement by early June. And that’s why Liz Truss and I are working towards- work towards the two days that we sat down in the UK and have been working towards every Friday when we’ve been meeting since I returned to Australia.
It’s amazing what happens when you take a flight, and it was great to be able to get on a plane and go to the UK. It gave me a little bit of time to read, read about what Doug Anthony went through 50 years ago when he went to the United Kingdom to try and keep the economic partnership, the strong economic partnership, which the UK and Australia enjoyed, together. As Britain looked to the European Union—as it was, he wasn't successful. As he said, he returned empty handed. But upon returning, he said, we shouldn't think about the past, we should look to the future and that's what Australia did, and especially looked to its region; and what we built on the back of Black Jack McEwan and what he'd been able to do with Japan post the Second World War. And we turned our sights to our region and have been very successful at negotiating free trade agreements in our region, which have benefited our economy incredibly well, to the extent that we had 28 years of undisputed, uninterrupted economic growth in the lead up to this this pandemic.
It also enabled me to think about when I flew to the UK as a student about 30 years ago, and I flew to the UK to go to a university and to study a Masters of International Relations at a school which had been founded by a former head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia. And I arrived not having had, not having organised, any accommodations, as young Australians tend to do when they go to the UK. And I took up residence in a B&B for a few days while I tried to sort out what I would do. And there was a lovely British lady who ran that B&B, and she knew someone at the university who ran the colleges and so, two days later, she'd spoken to someone in the colleges and before I knew it, I had a dorm and a bed in one of the colleges at the university. And off I went to my first day of studies and the lecturer was a keen cricketer. As soon as he found out that I played cricket, he had me signed up for the local village cricket team and, of course, I had a great time playing cricket with the local village cricket team. And when we finished, all they wanted to do was shout me Foster's beer, which at the time was one of the big exports from Australia. But I kept on saying to them, ‘no, I want to try your local brew’, which was incredibly good, and especially, the locally brewed Shepherd's Neame, which I still remember—probably had too much of it at the time, but it was very good.
But it goes to Angus's point, more to be done in that area because the UK does make some very good spirits and very, very good alcoholic beverages, which we would love to welcome here in the same way that we'd love to be able to provide more sheep meat and more beef to the UK. So, when they’re sampling some Australian wine, that they can sample, also, some of our great produce. And then the highlight for me was that my mother, who was a former conservation minister in the Victorian state government, knew a British investor who had invested in environmental technology here in Australia, and he happened to be a member at Lord’s. So, he then invited me to watch five days of the Lord's Test Match and Australia, of course, had a great series. Michael Slater made 100 at Lord’s and it just was the most fantastic five days. But it really brought home, thinking about that time, of the personal relationships, the investment relationships and even then, even after what had happened 50 years ago, still the strength of the economic relationship. So when I flew over this time, I was a little bit apprehensive because I thought if I go all that way and, like Doug Anthony did, come back empty-handed, then I'd be incredibly disappointed because all I wanted to do, and all the Australian Government wants to do, is enhance, grow and deepen further the wonderful relationship that we have with Britain.
And there were three important messages that I wanted to give to the British Government and really to discuss with Liz Truss. The first one was we cannot underestimate the importance of free trade, and especially as we come out of this pandemic. This pandemic has turned countries inwards, and if we're not careful, that will take hold and we'll see protectionist measures become the course of the day —and we do not want that. Australia and Britain have an absolute opportunity at the moment to set an example to the rest of the world of the way that we should come out of this pandemic, and that is by embracing free trade. And I read a quote from the British Prime Minister, which I think sums this up beautifully, and if you’ll just allow me, I'll read it to you. This is what he said in Greenwich on the 3 February 2020:
We in the global community are in danger of forgetting the key insight of those great Scottish thinkers, the invisible hand of Adam Smith, and, of course, David Riccardo's more subtle but indispensable principle of comparative advantage, which teaches that if countries learn to specialise in exchange, then overall wealth will increase and productivity will increase, leading Cobden to conclude that free trade is God's diplomacy–the only certain way of uniting people in the bonds of peace, since the more freely goods cross borders the less likely it is that troops will ever cross borders.
And we have to back those words in at the moment. And if we can do this through this free trade agreement, we will have not only done something special for our relationship, but we will have set an example for the rest of the globe. So that is one of the important messages that I was very keen to discuss with Liz Truss, but also send to the British Government.
The second is—and we cannot forget—the importance of the Australia-UK relationship itself: $36.7 billion in two-way trade of goods and services; the UK is Australia's fifth largest trading partner; it's our second highest source of foreign direct investment. So we need to enhance, deepen, and build on this, and when you have such a substantial relationship, such a substantial relationship, if you can free up more the free exchange of goods and services, then that will deepen and enhance it and it will grow. Look at our record with what we've been able to do with other economies in the Indo-Pacific when we've entered into free trade agreements. It has meant in many instances a doubling in the economic relationship and there is no reason why we can't do that with the United Kingdom. And, in particular, when it comes to investment at the moment, the pandemic has halved foreign direct investment across the globe. Now, we can see this as a real opportunity at the moment, if we can nail this free trade agreement, we can enhance those investment flows. We can make sure that investment between the UK and Australia helps us come out of this current global recession, drive innovation, drive jobs —incredibly, incredibly important.
And then the third point that I made was around the importance of the Indo-Pacific. The Indo-Pacific is where the economic weight of the world is at the moment. That's where the growing middle class is continuing to flourish and thrive. That's where the- that is the region where countries are coming together to see how they can cooperate and enhance their economic relationship. But obviously, it is a very complex environment at the moment. But as the UK looks to further engage with the Indo-Pacific, as they come out of Brexit, then there is no more important partner to help them as they seek to engage with the Indo-Pacific than Australia.
And it's not only relevant for the UK, because on the trip I also went to Germany, and I went to Belgium, and I went to France. And can I tell you there as well, they're also looking at the Indo-Pacific, and they're also looking at Australia to be that key partner to help them engage. So, in particular, though, for the UK, given that it's left Brexit and the need, and the importance for it, in terms of its mission of Global Britain, Australia stands ready to be a partner to help and support them as they engage with the Indo-Pacific. So they were the three important factors that I discussed Liz Truss. And can I say we had a wonderful two days. The warmth of the welcome was extraordinary. The chair was incredibly comfortable—and we were able to make remarkable progress. And I am very, very confident as long as we keep those three important things in mind: the importance of free trade, the importance of our own economic relationship, and the importance of us being able to engage more deeply in the Indo-Pacific, then we'll be able to get an outcome in early June.
I thank you all for your attendance today. It's wonderful to be with you all, and I'm looking forward to the Q&A. Hopefully it'll be a little bit more pleasant, David, than what we get on the ABC. But if it isn’t, I will have earned my lunch. So thanks everyone.
Question: So, you mentioned—and there’s lots to cover and I’ll try not to take all the time for questions from the floor because I know there are lots of people who have lots of questions. But I wanted to start actually on the- you touched on very briefly your trip to Europe as well. And we all know that in the Chamber, before Brexit was an issue, we’re very supportive and I acknowledge Jason Collins(*) my friend and colleague from the ABC who’s with us today, we’d been very supportive of that agreement as well. How did you go talking to the Europeans about that, where are we at?
Dan Tehan: Look, it went well and I was able to discuss the EU free trade agreement with my German counterpart, Belgian counterpart, the French counterpart and obviously the EU trade representative, Valdis Dombrovskis. And the trip started in terms of the EU FTA in Berlin with my German counterpart and he immediately said to me, ‘if the European Union can’t do a free trade agreement with Australia who can they do one with?’ And that was a message that I was able to use as I went through the rest of continental Europe. The two meetings that I had with Valdis Dombrovskis went exceptionally well. It’s incredibly hard to form a personal relationship, a strong one, over Zoom—and as much as you can try, it’s really hard. So being able to sit down with him and then—he very kindly invited me for a drink after our second meeting—and you can just sort of break the ice and start to talk about how you might shape a deal, et cetera. And so it went exceptionally well. And my hope is, if we can build on that—we're obviously not going to be able to, hopefully, reach an agreement like we are with the UK in that sort of timeframe—but I think we made some substantial progress, which will be very good. And I hope it will stand us in good stead to try and get an outcome by the end of the year.
Question: That's fantastic. And we're very hopeful of that, obviously, as well. But you mentioned that the UK might sneak in front on that journey. You've talked a little bit about the face to face meeting- the power of a face to face meeting. This was the first time that you’d met as- in your new role with the Secretary of State for International Trade. Tell us a little bit about how that unfolded. Obviously, you were on comfortable chairs, you mentioned that, but, you know, what is it like when you arrived there? The Brits are very good at, you know, pomp and circumstance and making you feel you've walked into their house. How did it feel?
Tehan: Yeah no, a very good question. So, I flew from Brussels to Paris and then Paris to London on the one day and did the second round of trade ministerial talks with France on that day. As I was leaving Brussels, the uncomfortable chair story broke and so, you know, obviously, once again, on the plane reading this, thinking about it, and then, obviously, very focussed on everything I was doing in France and then hopped on the plane again to fly for an hour to England—and you, sort of, I wasn't quite sure, given that, you know, this article had appeared as to, you know, what the reception might be when I got to the UK. But Liz Truss very graciously, as soon as I, literally, as I touched down in the UK, rang me and apologised—and it's very good of her to do that. And I was greatly appreciative of that, and I thought it was incredibly gracious, and from then on we had the odd joke about it, which was great, but the warmth of the welcome was exceptional. And we literally just got down to work. So arrived; I had a sort of working dinner with the High Commission and our trade negotiators, who had arrived earlier—so we got to work that night; next morning in, met, had our trade negotiators there and we literally just got to work—and we worked all day; we had dinner that night, continued the discussion over dinner, which also helps because you get a feel for things and what the political sensitivities are in the UK, what they are here, how you can sort of discuss informally how you might work through them; back in the next day and negotiating again. And by the end of it, we built such momentum, then we decided, well, why don't we go for this sprint to the finish line? And so I got back into quarantine on that Friday night with, you know, another hour, hour and a half, and every Friday night since. And I’ll leave here, fly to Canberra, and we'll do another hour or so tonight at six o'clock. So, it’s been terrific, and I can't thank Liz enough for the way that she's cooperatively just worked to try and get this deal done.
Question: That’s fantastic. And I have to say, as somebody who works- has been working both sides of the street to a certain degree, and we talked about- our chairman spoke about how open both sides have been. I think it's really terrific to see the leadership that's been able to be applied in that period since April. And we wish you the best in not only the conversation tonight, but over the next couple of weeks. It’s a- I'm not sure they're going to move the G7 out for you to change the times and the prime ministers might sign something. So, best of luck getting that nailed away.
You talked a little bit, mentioned in that comment about, you know, the role of the press in some of these things. And I guess what we've seen in the last couple of days is, you know, the normal things that we as Australians expect to see from people we’re trying to sign free trade agreements with — oh, we’re worried about you flooding our market with beef and lamb in particular. But there's normally a couple of other commodities that might be on that list. I know, for example, sugar went off the table very early when you started talking to the United States all those years ago. Where do you- how do you feel that's going? And, you know, there's talk about potentially COVID splits in the UK and all of that sort of thing. Do you feel that, you know, the relationship with Liz, and indeed, with the British Government is going to withstand that and we'll see a good outcome in that area?
Tehan: Well, I think the most important thing is to think of the principles, and that's what should drive us. And it's why that quote that I read out from the British Prime Minister, I think, is so important, that what we have to keep in mind is that liberalisation will benefit both countries. And if you, you know, particularly use the example of Australia, when- our economic relationship and especially from our agricultural sector, 50 years ago, was highly dependent on the United Kingdom. And yet what we saw was a big fork in the road whereby that shut off for us, so we had to look elsewhere and so we've pursued, as a government, and right across our export industries, access into the Indo-Pacific. And look at the success as a country that we've been able to accrue from doing that. And I think we, you know, in many ways, the UK can look to Australia and be very, very confident that if it does back those ideals, it will strengthen their economy and it will enhance it, because that's what's happened to us. We’re open, free and our economy has benefited from it. And, you know, the UK’s taken the hard political decision to get out of Brexit. So why not seize that opportunity now to really change direction and pursue Global Britain? And I think if they do that, it will transform what already is an incredibly strong economy. You know, I think it's the fifth largest economy in the world. So they should have confidence in who they are and what they can achieve and what they've already achieved, and they should see this as another opportunity to really advance their economy. Likewise, we do. You know, we're going to be allowing things into Australia where we’re eliminating tariffs. But I've got really good confidence that our economy will benefit from that and grow as a result of that. And I think the UK should do the same.
Question: Well, I very much look forward to just echoing Angus’ thoughts as a lover of fine Scotch whiskey, I'm very happy to [indistinct]… see that one potentially disappear. No pressure [indistinct]…
In free trade agreements, we talk about trade, but for this agreement in particular, given that the size of the services economy in both of our countries, importantly as well, the geographical spread actually, particularly in things like the services, is actually a benefit rather than, you know, in goods trade, you've got to get the stuff to the other side of the world. It can be quite challenging. And we’ll talk a little bit more about that in a minute. But in terms of the services side and particularly the investment side, I mean, I note that the stock of investment between Australia and the UK has gone from 900 billion between us, to 1.1. And even the numbers for 2020, which came out at the beginning of the month, it’s now a $1.3 trillion two-way investment relationship. That's an extraordinary number, only shadowed, obviously, by the US who’ve had this free trade agreement for a long time before us. So, what are the opportunities you really see for services and investment in particular?
Tehan: Huge. And my hope is and I’ve expressed this to Liz, that in terms of free trade agreements that Australia’s done, I’d like this to be the most liberalising we’ve ever done when it comes to services and when it comes to investment. Because, if we can’t have that sort of relationship with the UK, to sort of turn the quote around from my German counterpart, then who can we have one with? So, that is my hope that this will be as ambitious in the services and the investment side than we've ever done with any other agreement. And that's my aim and I hope we can get there.
Question: Alright. I’m giving fair warning, I've got two questions left before I'm going to ask those gathered to chip in with some thoughts and questions of their own. Firstly, I just wanted to touch on IFAM, which obviously, you know, the International Freight Assistance Mechanism that came in last year and has really, in a lot of ways, kept some of the planes that normally would be carrying lots passengers in them as well, in the air, and getting Australian exports out to markets. How is that going now? Where are we up to? What support is still around and do you see that, you know, obviously the next que- you know what the next question’s going to be. I don’t have to telegraph it too much. But the border question will come in a second. But where’s the freight assistance piece at the moment?
Tehan: So, we've extended it and it's still, obviously, providing much needed support given where the international aviation sector is at the moment and we’ll continue to assess whether we need to extend it further. Obviously, we're watching, monitoring and seeing how we go dealing with the virus, how we’re- how the globe goes dealing with it, and we will continue to assess it. But it has been an incredible success story, has helped us, in particular, export our goods out of the country and we will continue to watch and monitor it. But we have extended it and we'll continue to assess what further measures we might need to take a-dependent on where the virus is at and what happens with international aviation.
Question: Alright. I’m going to be a little bit cheeky. Can I just ask the audience; it feels a little bit like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Audience, put your hand up if you’d like to travel internationally again.
Okay, hands down. Put your hand up if you would not like to travel internationally again? I can’t see any, I can’t see [indistinct]. We’re all dying to know and, you know, that the rhetoric around the budget was obviously mid-next year. Look, I'm happy to come with you if you need somebody to carry your bags at some point, and I'm sure everybody else in the room is probably just as eager to find a way to hop on that plane with you. Given the impact that that has, not just on us as tourists or as businesspeople looking for those opportunities. The question I really want to understand is, with the free trade agreement, additional need for services, looking at the infrastructure pipeline, which was probably running at 120 per cent before COVID hit. We’re now trying to pump it up even more, and I know colleagues in the room from plenty of the engineering firms in particular, who normally would just bring people in to help upskill the Australian workforce, provide certain [indistinct] of expertise, et cetera. Those options are pretty much closed at the moment. How do you see us unravelling that to get some of those skills back as quickly as we can to make sure the economic recovery is as strong as it can be?
Tehan: So, a couple of points to make on that. First of all, I’ve got to say, travelling to Europe and the UK was a bit of a reminder to me about how well we've done dealing with the virus. So, Europe is still very much in lockdown. The UK was slowly starting to come out of lockdown. And we have to remember that the impact that the virus can have on your economy, on your way of life, if it gets out. And they are still dealing with that in Europe and the UK. Now, obviously, in the UK, they've made extraordinary progress when it comes to the vaccine, which was enabling them to begin to open up. But for the first time, and it was announced when we were over there, that you were allowed to sit out the front of a pub—you weren't allowed to go into it, you were allowed to sit out the front of the pub and have a beer. Now you think where we’re at. Whereas last year, you know, they held the Grand Final in Brisbane, which the Richmond Football Club won, with a- full capacity at the Gabba. You know, there in the UK, five or six months later, they were just allowing people to sit out the front of a hotel. In Europe, they’re not even there yet. And I was speaking to my Canadian counterpart last week, and she was doing that call from home because there, they’re still on work from home. They’re not even going back into the office. So, in part, I think we've got to remember what is happening globally and what this virus does if it gets a foothold.
Now, you know, all of us want to start travelling again. I mean, for me, having been able to do that trip and sit down face to face, the difference it made, compared to what we've been doing over Zoom, I just cannot describe. But at the same time, I think we've got to be very, very careful that we don't get ahead of ourselves. We've got to be very cautious because the rest of the globe is still dealing with the virus in a very, very different way to what we're able to do here and so, my hope is, and this is putting Australia's tourism minister’s hat on, is that, first of all we can get more and more agreement that our state and territory borders won’t close. I think that would be a fantastic step to really give confidence to people to be able to travel domestically. And if we could really work to get that done, that would be fantastic. And then we've just got to watch and monitor. Obviously, our bubble with New Zealand has been very successful and we've managed to keep that going. So then we need to start looking at what other bubbles we can open as we see other countries successfully dealing with the virus.
And so that's the approach that we’ll take. But, you know, I think we should all have confidence that one way or another, especially with what's being done with vaccines, we'll be travelling again. But we've just got to do it in a way that given all the good work that's been done in this nation, that we don't jeopardise that, and especially jeopardise the economic recovery that we're just starting to see happen globally, that obviously has been quite extraordinary, I think better than any of us could have imagined here in Australia.
Question: Thank you very much. And now it's over to you on the floor to ask questions. So please raise your hand. A microphone will come to you. We’re sanitising between questions. The mics will come to you. But whilst the mic’s just getting to the first one, I've got one more question. It’s a bit of a- this is the grilling question, right? This is the ABC question will be too. The UK are leading the charge towards COP26. They’ve obviously [indistinct] leadership position on that. Australia's Federal Government has said that we'd like to get to net zero. 2050 sounds good, but we don't know how we're going to get there so we’re not going to commit to it yet. How do you feel that the Government's going? As a person on the inside of the Government and well aware of what's going on, do you think we can get there by November?
Tehan: Well, I think it's incredibly important that we can first demonstrate that we can, because if you look at our track record and, previously, I worked at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, I went to a COP in Buenos Aries, I think it was COP3 or COP4. And one of the things that we always pride ourselves on is when we make a commitment that we’ll honour it. And if you look at our record, when it comes to Kyoto, when it comes to Paris, that's exactly what we've done. And there aren’t too many other countries that can put their hand on their heart and say, not only did we make a commitment, but we met it. And that's something that we all should take pride in, that our governments, and of both political persuasions, when they make commitments internationally, they always seek to honour them and make sure that they're just not making commitments for the sake of it. It would be very easy for us to say, yes, sure, we're going to get to zero by 2050 and then just, you know, ignore it and oh well, we missed. And there are countries around the negotiating table who say it's more important to actually set the target than it is to reach it. We just don't buy that. I mean, that starts to undermine everything you do internationally if that's the approach you take.
So I can guarantee you that we're doing an extraordinary amount of work to see how we could get to net zero emissions by 2050. But we want to be able to demonstrate that we can do it and do it in a way where we, in particular, take jobs in regional and rural Australia with us to be able to meet it. And so we'll continue to do that work, but we'll be very upfront and honest about what we can and cannot do.
Question: Thank you very much. Minister. Well answered. Now, questions from the floor. I think there's one over there. If I could ask you, please, to stand, tell us who you are and where you’re from, and then pose your question.
Question: Thanks very much, David. [Indistinct] from Accolade Wines. Thank you, Minister, for the inclusion of the Shiraz in front of the log fire. We, as proud winemakers certainly relate to that, and also all of the other great wine that we produce. Minister, it’s a simple question. We are very keen on a preferential, mutually beneficial agreement with the UK, it’s a very important market for not just our company but, indeed, our competitors. Many of them are in the room and we’ve eyeballed each other already, I can tell you that. Particularly on tariff reduction and the ability to carbonate Australian wine in the UK for the British market. What do you think our chances of that would be?
Tehan: It’s a really good question, and I’ll tell a little bit of a story, it’s a funny story. I met with the parliamentary committee that looks after international trade and, unfortunately, we had to do it by Zoom. But it was- they had, I think it was five or six of the MPs who were on the call, and Angus MacNeil, who is a Scottish MP, chairs it. So, we started off and we were having a very friendly chat, and then all of a sudden he said: Sorry, I’ve got to go, one of my ewes is about to lamb.
So he ducked off and then he reappeared about half an hour later, and the ewe had successfully had twins, so he was very happy, and we resumed again and then we got onto the subject of wine. And can I tell you, I’ve never seen such warmth towards Australian wine, and they were all, rather than sort of saying, ‘Oh, no, do not bring in Australian wine, it might be a threat to us’, it was, ‘how can we get more Australian wine? We want to be able to drink wine’. And I’ve got to say that was the theme that I had over the two days, even the news presenters I was discussing with, they were saying, ‘what will we be able to do to get more Australian wine in? Is everything all right with getting more Australian wine?’ I was saying: well, that’s what we’re working on.
So, I seemed to be pushing against a very open door on that one at the moment. Now, hopefully, we’ll get everything that we do and especially some of these, I think, silly regulations that we’ll be able to look at and address. But they’re very much at the forefront of UK MPs, because they obviously like Australian wine, which is a great thing.
Question: Patrick Edwards from British Pensions in Australia. I represent about 200,000 pensioners living in Australia who receive the British pension, who are being discriminated against by the British government. Have you made every effort you can to get the British government to end the current discrimination against Australians?
Tehan: As you know, this is an issue which is a long-lasting issue and representations have been made to the British government over a period of time on it. But those representations, and that issue, is very much a part outside negotiations we’re undertaking on a free trade agreement.
Question: Thanks David, thanks Minister, it’s been a while since we did free trade agreements…
[Indistinct overlapping voices]
Tehan: Good to see you, Tim, how are you?
Question: Good to see you too. I just had a question, Minister, about perceptions of the UK and Australian relationship in the press. As you pointed out in the speech, I think, the relationship’s very important. I think there’s 6000 Australian small businesses in the UK, which would be double that of Germany or France, and certainly with investments, certainly when you ask Australians where they want to go off and set up business, they always say the UK, despite accusations to the contrary. Do you think perhaps there’s a bit of an anti-UK bias in the British press, particularly in the ABC and the Conversation, so that when people like me are talking about the benefits of the UK, they’d rather not run it? They’d rather run something out of Brussels or somewhere else? And can I help sell the agreement, I guess?
Tehan: Well you can, Tim, and it would be fantastic if you could because in your previous role you were very good at selling the benefits of free trade. I think today’s media, and it’s a bit to do with presence online, more and more they want conflict, they want disagreement to sort of drive the clickbait. And one of the things I think all of us in this room need to do, because we’re all true believers in the importance of the relationship and we want to enhance it, is to make sure that we don’t buy into that. Is to just be very level-headed, very sensible, understand the importance of what we’re dealing with, and to make sure that that’s what we keep at the forefront of our minds. It’s very easy to grab a very quick headline by saying something controversial these days. Because all of a sudden you’ll be up there online, in particular, and people will be clicking away, and often the headline does not match the substance of what’s in the article. But I think all of us have just got to refrain from that at the moment. This is too important to enter into that sort of, what I think is pretty petty and so, what you’ll get from me is a real focus on the main game—keep the main thing the main thing, I think is an incredibly important saying. And that’s what I’ll be seeking to do, and any support that you can give to make sure that the substance gets a run, I think, is incredibly important, because there is so much substance.
What I tried to illustrate a little bit, just from when I went over as a student, you know, there’s the investment relationships, there’s the people-to-people links, there’s people-to-people links in the- you know, you had a former head of the Department of Foreign Affairs here in Australia go over and set up an international relations school in the UK. That shows the depth of the relationship, and we can just further grow and enhance that, and I think we’ve got to make sure we don’t get caught up in that day-to-day clickbait headlining.
Question: Hi Minister. Steve Pattillo, I’m the CEO and owner of Global Academic Ventures. We’re a company that brings people to Australia to do study, exchange young and old, tours, learning about Australia, gap years, that sort of thing. We really appreciate the Export Market Development Grants. It was a fantastic program. We used it up until 2015-2016 when the eight years ran out, and that was a tough day when those eight years ran out, we had to start picking up everything. We’ve obviously lost about 60 to 70 per cent of our export revenue because people can’t arrive. So we’re going to start rebuilding Europe, the States, Asia and Latin America. Is it possible for Australia to consider a program where you have an EMDG rebuild? Those [indistinct] eight years. Would it be a good idea for us to be able to get some subsidies, or at least some [indistinct] to rebuild our export markets?
Tehan: Okay. That’s a good point and I’m happy to consider that and take it onboard. We’ve just revamped the EMDG scheme and we’re just about to roll out one program and then because of the revamp, there’ll be another program that’s rolled out a few months later. Because it previously was done retrospectively and now we’re going to pay in advance. So, we’re sort of locked in with what we’re going to do over the next two programs, but I’m happy to take that onboard and look at ways that we might be able to help. So thanks for making the point.
Question: Thanks very much, David, and great pleasure to be here, and can I say we appreciate the great partnership with Australia [indistinct]. Minister, your visit was, I think, a real game changer, and we really welcome the phenomenal progress that is being made [indistinct.] The question I wanted to ask is about the global trading system and how important that is to what you outlined in terms of first principles. As open trading nations like Australia, a good functioning international trade system is essential. There’s been an impressive new person appointed to lead the WTO, and of course Australia, Europe and the UK were very important in sort of rallying around the WTO to work around on the appellate body and so on. So I just wondered if you could talk about how you’re seeing the momentum or a resurgence of the WTO trade agenda, and also the role of the new US administration in maybe unblocking some of those things [indistinct].
Tehan: Yeah, really good question, and I don’t think it’s ever been more important that we have a well-functioning World Trade Organization. Not only in setting rules, and digital trade is one area where Australia, Japan and Singapore are trying to lead in that area, and for our free trade agreement with the UK we want digital trade rules to be very much a part of that. It’s never, I don’t think, never been more important, and we’ve got a big job to get it back in that paramount spot where it was 20 or 30 years ago, and I don’t think any of us should underestimate the challenge. The new director-general, you’re right, Ngozi, she is a breath of fresh air. She will do everything she can and bring every effort to try and rebuild the WTO, but it’s not going to be without its challenges. Australia will be there helping and supporting that. That was the first port of call I made when I went to Europe was to go to Geneva and meet with Ngozi. She needs assistance, she needs help, and we’re going to try and work with her to make MC12, a ministerial meeting at the end of this year, a success, because we do have to see some real outcomes. Otherwise, I think people will just- countries will begin to move further from the World Trade Organisation. So the next six to seven months are absolutely vital in that regard.
I met with, or spoke with, my US counterpart on Wednesday morning, and we had a very wide ranging discussion around trade in health, the TRIPs waiver, but also about the World Trade Organization. She's three months into the job at the moment. So she's very much in listening and engaging mode, but the fact that we were able to have a very good discussion about priorities for the World Trade Organization, I think, was important. But we will need to get some reform to really get the US engaged again and working out what that reform will look like and how we go about achieving it will be fraught. But, it’s too important for us as a nation for us not to try, because if we don't have global trade rules and we don’t have a mechanism to enforce global trade rules, its economic might which rules the day. And when you’re the big players in town, economic might works. But when you’re not, you tend to just get buffeted in the winds, as they play it out —and that's not a good place for us to be in. So over the next six to seven months, expect to see us playing a very significant role in trying to get agreement to get really good, meaningful outcomes out of MC12. So people will look again at the World Trade Organization, as you know, as that paramount body for setting trade rules and enforcing them.
Question: Thank you Minister. I think we’ve got time for one more question. I think it’s Jamie Smyth. Congratulations, I think you were on the front page. Your story was on the front of the FT; I think I saw. Jamie.
Question: Thanks David. Great to get on the front page. Great to get Australia on the front page. Minister, I’m Jamie Smyth from the FT. From Northern Ireland, a place with a lot of small beef farms. And there is some concern in the UK amongst the farming community that Australia has very large beef farms and very efficient beef farms and very good beef. What I’m wondering is, as part of this FTA, is there any chance that Australia would accept to retain some sort of quota as a safeguard for those British farmers who are very concerned right now? Or is that a red light issue for your government? Thank you.
Tehan: Can I thank you for the question and one of the things that Liz and I agreed, when I left London, was that we aren’t going- we weren’t going to go into the finer points of the negotiation —and I’m not going to start doing that now. But what I would say to you UK farmers is that, together, the Australian agricultural industry and the UK industry can work together, I think, to enhance agricultural production in the UK and enhance agricultural production here in Australia. We shouldn’t fear the economic relationship, we should embrace it. We should seek to learn from each other and we should seek to grow agriculture in the UK and here in Australia. And if we get the partnership right and do it right, there is no reason why we can’t do that. And I’ll also point to what Australian agriculture has been able to achieve over the last 50 years. When the UK turned to the European Union, in many ways, there were a lot of fears amongst our family farmers. And remembering that predominantly, I think, it’s 80-90 per cent of our farms here are family farms, there was a similar sort of fear as to what this was going to mean. And yet, by us being able to embrace free trade in our region, those family farms have continued to be strong or been able to use innovation, use technology to advance their ability to produce and to be able to export. And I see no reason why the same wouldn’t be for Northern Ireland beef producers, Welsh beef producers, Scottish beef producers or English beef producers. So have confidence in your own ability. Have confidence in what you do, what you do so well, and trust the economic relationship and I think you’ll go from strength to strength would be my message.
Question: Thank you very much Minister.
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