Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-China relationship, Australian trade relationships, New Zealand Trade Minister comments
02 February 2021

Ben Fordham: Beijing says Aussie politicians are whining about their calls and letters going unanswered. The new Trade Minister Dan Tehan reached out to his Chinese counterpart last month, but his letter went unanswered. And, now China's state media outlet, the Global Times, has issued an editorial accusing Australia of a publicity stunt. They say Dan Tehan is trying to play the victim. The Federal Trade Minister is live on the line. Good morning to you, Minister.

Dan Tehan: Morning Ben, wonderful to be with you.

Fordham: Good to talk to you. Are you playing the victim?

Tehan: No, no. What I've done is, when I was appointed Trade Minister, just before Christmas, my Chinese counterpart was also appointed — there was a change in Commerce Minister in China. And, what I've done is I've reached out, I wrote a very detailed letter to him, welcoming him on his new appointment, and just saying that I was very keen to have a constructive engagement with him, because there are lots of areas where we have mutual benefit in our relationship. And, so, I wanted to work with him, and also wanted to work through these issues that we've got with these current trade disputes.

Fordham: I'm guessing you wouldn't be holding out a lot of hope, considering that the former Trade Minister Simon Birmingham got the cold shoulder from China about a dozen times?

Tehan: Well, it's over three years now, nearly three-and-a-half years since we've had an official trade ministers meeting with China and that's something that I think we should be seeking to address. I think it would be great if we could have a trade ministers meeting — talk through our differences, and make sure where we've got those mutually beneficial relationships; that we can discuss ways that we can improve that. China is our largest two-way trading partner, $251 billion dollars is that trading relationship — so we have a lot in common. A lot that we sent to China is beneficial for them, and a lot what they send to us is beneficial to us. So, there's a lot we can work together on.

Fordham: Has Scott Morrison reached out at a leader's level?

Tehan: Look, the Prime Minister even yesterday made it very clear that we would welcome minister-to-minister or leader-to-leader dialogue, so that's something that the Australian Government wants to do. But, we'll also make sure that, as part of our trading relationship, that we're also seeking new opportunities, as well. And, that's why I've already been in discussions with my counterpart in the UK about a UK free trade agreement. I'll be having discussions with the European Union next week about a European Union free trade agreement. There's opportunities, further opportunities, in India, although we'll have to be patient there. But, we need to explore those opportunities because India's economy continues to grow, and I think there's a lot of opportunities for us in that market. Vietnam, and obviously the new Biden administration presents a new way for us to work with the US Government, as well. So, there's a lot for us to be doing.

Fordham: What do you make of the advice from Damien O'Connor, New Zealand's Trade Minister, who says if Australia was to follow us and show respect, then they could be in a similar situation as New Zealand?

Tehan: Look, Damien was very good. After those comments he gave me a call and made it very clear that while New Zealand should speak for New Zealand, Australia should speak for Australia — and I really appreciated that call. And, I'll be having a bilateral discussion with New Zealand on Friday. It'll be the first official bilateral discussion I have with any nation. We've got a very close relationship with New Zealand, and I look forward to having a really strong relationship with Damien and the New Zealand Government.

Fordham: Day one of the official sitting of the 2021 Parliament today. Good luck with it, and we'll catch up soon.

Tehan: Thanks, Ben. Always a pleasure to chat.

Fordham: Dan Tehan, the Federal Trade Minister joining us from Canberra.

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