Doorstop, Thursday 24 June 2021

  • Transcript
Subject: China WTO action
24 June 2021

Minister Dan Tehan: Thanks for joining me this evening. We've been notified, just after five o'clock, that China are initiating consultations through the WTO dispute settlement body with Australia on anti-dumping and countervailing measures we have put in place on wind towers, on stainless-steel sinks, and on railway wheels. Obviously, China has the right to take this action but Australia will be vigorously defending our system that we have in place for accounting for the measures that we put in place, where we think there is injury occurring here in Australia to particular industries. We will, of course, agree to those consultations. They will take place at the officials' level but, also, we are willing to have those consultations take place at the ministerial level.

Journalist: Have you had any contact with the Chinese Government about this?

Tehan: No, we were informed just after five o'clock that they were taking these measures, and our embassy at the WTO was informed earlier today that China would be taking this course of action.

Journalist: Why do you think they are taking this course of action? Because we are taking them to the WTO over wine, or questions over UNESCO?

Tehan: You would have to ask the Chinese Government that question. But in the normal course of action, they would raise this issue in the WTO in the relevant committees and also would raise these issues with us through officials. We have not seen that. So, the first we heard of this was today.

Journalist: Do you believe the case is legitimate? Does Australia have a case to answer on this particular incident?

Tehan: Well, two of the measures we put in place we put in place in 2014 and 2015, with regards to wind towers and stainless-steel sinks. The other measure was put in place in 2019, and that was the railway wheels. So, why they have taken this action now is a question you would have to ask China.

Journalist: How does this affect our relationship with the country now, particularly with trade?

Tehan: Well, obviously, China has the right to take this action but we will vigorously defend the duties that we have put in place. What we would like to be able to do is not only be able to sit down at the officials' level and resolve these disputes, but also at the ministerial level. But that is not an avenue which is available to us at this time.

Journalist: What is the size of these tariffs, these anti-dumping tariffs we have on these products, and given that China has complained that we have used these anti-dumping tariffs as protectionism before, is there any grounds for these complaints?

Tehan: Well, they vary. In the case of wind towers it is a 10% tariff that was put in place, with regards to railway wheels it is around the 30% mark, and it was not just duties that we put in place with regards to China, but also with regards to France. So, the measures vary, but we think they are justified. The independent anti-dumping commission puts in place these measures after a rigorous analysis, going through that process with Australian business. And we are always, always, putting in place due diligence to make sure any measures that we put in place are WTO consistent.

Journalist: Is this yet another deterioration in the relationship between Australia and China, and are you worried about what might come next?

Tehan: Look, we want to have constructive engagement with the Chinese Government. We have said that all along. I wrote to my Chinese counterpart, who was appointed at the same time that I was, setting out all the reasons and all the areas that we could work together, and our ability to work through disputes, and at times, the need for us to agree to disagree. Now, I am yet to have a response to that letter. But we do want constructive engagement with the Chinese Government. The economic relationship is an incredibly important one. It has helped to lift millions out of poverty in China and it has helped us maintain our standard of living.

Journalist: Minister, do you regard this as tit for tat?

Tehan: Look, ultimately, you would have to ask the Chinese Government the reason why they have acted today to take this measure. As I have said, the normal course of events would be that you would get some notification of their concerns about the measures we put in place through the relevant WTO committee, or through officials raising it through bilateral channels. We have not seen any of that. All we have seen is the action that's been taken today.

Journalist: What does this mean for producers in the short term or manufacturers in the short term?

Tehan: Obviously, in the short term it doesn't mean anything because we will robustly defend the measures that we have put in place. It would only, ultimately lead to changes needing to be made depending on the outcome of the case. As I have said, we will robustly defend this case.

Journalist: Minister, Australia has initiated action already on the barley tariffs and the wine tariffs. Is the Australian Government considering any other WTO referrals regarding to other Australian export sectors that have been targeted by China?

Tehan: Look, we continue to assess all avenues available to us to be able to deal with the current trade disputes that we have, and where we think that we have a strong legal case and where we think serious injury or damage has been done to industry here. We will look at all available options and avenues available to us to protect and defend our industries. So…

Journalist: Further actions are on the table?

Tehan: Well, I am not ruling them out. Obviously, it would depend on the legal case and on the extent of the injury that occurs to Australian producers as a result of actions which are taken.

Journalist: Does this escalate the situation into a trade war?

Tehan: Look, what we want to do is see very constructive engagement with China. The economic relationship is an incredibly important one for both nations. It has grown significantly over the years, and we want to see it maintained, because as I have said, it benefits Chinese consumers, it benefits the Chinese people, as it benefits Australians and the Australian consumers. So, we want constructive engagement with China. We want to sit down and work through these disputes. We continue to do it at the officials level and we would be more than happy to do it at the ministerial level. I will leave it there, thank you very much.

Journalist: How long would you expect the case to go for, until we can get some certainty on this?

Tehan: So, the timeframes for these WTO cases can be anywhere between two to four years. But, ultimately, countries can sit down and try to resolve them before those timeframes. But cases usually take anywhere between two to four years. Thank you very much.

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