Interview on ABC SA Country Hour
Cassandra Hough: So, Trade Minister Dan Tehan, you’re at the NFF Towards 2030 event in South Australia today and, obviously, agriculture’s a very trade exposed industry. You were talking about a team Australia approach and the way that agriculture and the Government can work together. How important is this relationship?
Dan Tehan: Well, it's incredibly important. We want to grow agriculture to be a $100 billion sector of our economy, and the way that we can do that is have Government and the NFF, and the agricultural sector, working hand in hand, and that was my message today: we need very much a Team Australia approach. That's the approach we've been taking and it's led to some excellent results. But we're going to have to continue pursuing our agenda together if we are going to have continued success.
Hough: You’re at the pointy end of your discussions with the UK over the free trade agreement and you, you said today that you want to have it actually signed off before the Prime Minister heads to England for the G Summit- to the G7 Summit. But there have been concerns, particularly around allowing Australian beef and lamb and sheep meat into that country over things like HTP’s and things like that. How are those negotiations coming along?
Tehan: They’re progressing and we've made incredible progress in the last six weeks. But we're getting to the pointy end, the clock's ticking, and we've got days to try and finalise things. So, I'll be talking to Liz Truss, my UK counterpart, tonight, I was talking to her last night, we're dotting i's, crossing t's, and trying to reach agreement, and those discussions continue. When you get to-
Hough: What’s the sticking point?
Tehan: Oh, there's, there's still a few sticking points, and Liz and I agreed at the very start that we wouldn't do our negotiations through the media. But we want to make sure that we get a very, very ambitious agreement. I want this agreement to be the best agreement we've done outside of the one we've got with New Zealand, and that continues to be my goal. And, what we need to do is make sure that we see that type of ambition from the UK as well, and hopefully we'll get there.
Hough: The UK farmers might have concerns about the animal husbandry practices in Australia, but there are concerns here about the amount of subsidies that the UK and the EU receive as well. Has that been addressed?
Tehan: Well, my view is that we've got the best animal welfare practices in the world, and that's a clear message that I've given to the UK. So, we'll continue to prosecute that case and point out to the UK that they have certain animal welfare practices that they need to put in place due to the environmental conditions in the UK and we're the same here. So, I think we can work through animal welfare successfully.
Hough: What about the subsidies, though, coming back this way?
Tehan: Well, that's something that is ongoing, and we will continue to push to get subsidies reduced. Our best chance of that happening is through the World Trade Organization, and that's one of the things that we've got on the agenda of the WTO at the moment.
Hough: An FTA that's taking a bit longer to negotiate is the EU FTA, and appellation or geographic indicators like being able to call feta, feta and things like that has been a major sticking point. You are up to round 11 of negotiations. Where does that sit now?
Tehan: Yeah, it's like a heavyweight boxing match, this one. We're in the 11th round and we'll definitely go to a 12th round. Look, we're making good progress on the EU FTA. The 10th round was the best round of negotiations we've had, the 11th round is ongoing at the moment and we're continuing to make good progress, so my hope is that we will be able to resolve all these issues. We've done a lot of consultations on the GI’s, the geographical indicators, issue here in Australia, and if we can get very good market access for our agricultural sector in the EU negotiation, then I think we can reach a landing point when it comes to GI’s.
Hough: You mentioned the World Trade Organization there. We've been hearing that Australia is looking at referring China to the WTO over the tariffs that have been placed on wine going into that country from Australia. I keep hearing it's a couple of weeks away, it's a couple of weeks away - keep getting pushed back a couple of weeks. Where is that sitting now?
Tehan: Yeah, look, we're in the final stages of deciding the course of action that we will take. We've put the legal case together. We're making sure that that is a robust legal case, because if you're going to take on these disputes, you've got to make sure that you can do your best to win them and that means you've got to have the strongest case possible. We're now looking at all that, dotting i's and crossing t's, and there will be an announcement in the coming weeks.
Hough: So, the coming weeks continues. How much can these free trade agreements that you're negotiating in Europe and the UK, though, make up for what has been a pretty big decline in trade when you take out iron ore from China?
Tehan: Look, the ability of our exporters, and especially our ag exporters, to diversify has been remarkable and it shows, I think, one thing above all else, that is, we make or produce here quality, quality agricultural products, and the demand for them across the world continues. And so our ability to diversify has been remarkable when it comes to wine. For instance, we've seen, I think, a 33 per cent increase in our wine exports to the UK, and that's before we finalise our free trade agreement. So, we are seeing incredible resilience due to the quality of the produce and the products that we're able to produce here in Australia and as long as we continue making that quality product or produce, I'm sure that we’ll continue to be- our exports will continue to be in strong demand.
Hough: You said today, though, that you’re concerned that the World Trade Organization has lost influence, though. How much could that affect Australia's hopes for improving trade relations with China?
Tehan: Well, I think it's more than just our trade relationship with China. It's how the world sets its trade rules and how it makes sure that countries adhere to them, which is incredibly important to an economy our size. Otherwise, what tends to happen is the economic heavyweights set the rules and all the others just get caught in the wake, and that's against Australia's interests. So, we've just got to work really, really hard to get the WTO back in the paramount place that we wanted, setting trade rules and making sure they're adhered to.
Hough: You said, though, that you are expecting a difficult 12 to 24 months, though, for trade, particularly with China. Why? What are you particularly seeing in the next year to two years?
Tehan: Well, what our hope all along has been is that we could sit down and work through our current dispute with China. Unfortunately, at this stage, we're not seeing any sign that we will be able to sit down and work through these disputes. So, I think it's more than likely, at this stage, that they're going to be ongoing. Obviously, at the officials’ level, we are still in dialogue, but what we'd really like to be able to do is sit down at a ministerial level and be able to work through these disputes. Even if we can't agree on everything, we least can agree to disagree on certain things. But dialogue is just so important and, at this stage, we're seeing no sign of a willingness to be able to sit down and talk.
Hough: I know farmers have been a bit concerned about seeing too much of the negotiations or commentary coming in the media. Have you tried to pull that back and bring it more in-house?
Tehan: Well, my clear message has always been, from the moment I took on this portfolio, is that we want a constructive relationship with China, and that the trading relationship we have is incredibly important for both countries. Our exports to China have helped lift millions out of poverty there. Likewise, Chinese imports to Australia have helped us maintain our standard of living. So, it's incredibly important that we understand that the benefits of the trading relationship between Australia and China is a win-win for both countries, and we want to be able to make sure that we have a constructive relationship. That's something I sought by writing to my counterpart, the Chinese Trade Minister, in January. Unfortunately, I'm still yet to get a response to that letter.
Hough: And, we're sitting here in the Barossa Valley looking over some grapevines. And I understand you're about to go on farm as well. Pulses are a particularly important crop in South Australia, and they have had a bit of an up and down ride, particularly with India, the world's largest consumer of pulses. How is your Government going about getting, if not the tariffs reduced, at least some sort of certainty on when tariffs- sorry, how are you getting more certainty on the way the tariffs move in India, given they've gone up and down a lot lately?
Tehan: Well, we want to make sure that we can improve- continue to improve our economic relationship with India—and, at the moment, we're in discussions with India as to how we might do that with regards to building on the comprehensive economic partnership that we already have with India. And we want to make sure that the economy and our trading relationship is a key part of that. So, I'll be putting a proposal to my Indian counterpart in the coming weeks as to how we might do that. We discussed this about three weeks ago. We had a very good discussion about enhancing the economic relationship. So, we'll continue to put proposals to India and continue to look at ways we can enhance the economic relationship, because it's one of growing importance, and one which we want to make sure that we can continue to develop.
Hough: And are you aware of issues that citrus producers are having getting their produce into China?
Tehan: Look, there's been ongoing issues in a number of sectors with behind-the-barrier issues that we're still trying to work through. Citrus growers have raised with me some concerns that they've had with regard to landing product in China. Our officials continue to explore with Chinese officials what's going on and what we need to do to address those issues.
Hough: But there's been nothing official on any sort of ban?
Tehan: No, there's nothing official and we're working through those issues with the sector at the moment.
Hough: Well, enjoy your time in South Australia, Minister.
Tehan: It's wonderful to be here. It's wonderful to see some rain. The Barossa has a really lovely, fresh look to it with the overnight rain. And it's great to be here.
Hough: Minister for Trade Dan Tehan speaking there at the Towards 2030 NFF Conference.