Interview with Chris Kenny, Sky News

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

Chris Kenny: Let’s go to Canberra now and catch up with the new Minister for Trade and Tourism. That is Dan Tehan. Good to talk to you Dan. Shifting from education to trade, in particular, huge challenge for you trying to re-establish connection with our largest trading partner, one of our largest trading partners, in China. Have you had any communication at all from your counterpart in China yet?

Dan Tehan: Well, Chris, I’ve written to my Chinese counterpart. I did that early in January. We were both appointed around the same time. It was a very detailed letter, and now — just waiting patiently for a reply. But, in the meantime, we continue to engage at the officials’ level, and I was on a WTO, World Trade Organization, ministerial hook-up on Friday night; there were 30 ministers on that call; it was convened by the Swiss Government, and the Chinese Minister was on that. And, I must say, of all the 30 ministers, there’s a real push for need of reform on the World Trade Organization. So, that’s something that we can work cooperatively on — but at this stage, no response yet to the letter, but we will continue to engage right across the spectrum. It’s why we’re pushing on with free trade agreements with the EU, the UK. There’s, obviously, work to do with the new Biden administration. We’ve got opportunities with India, Vietnam, with Japan, and I’ll be having a formal bilateral meeting with New Zealand on Friday. So, there’s opportunities, also, with how we engage with New Zealand.

Kenny: Well, New Zealand is an interesting one because they’ve been, for want of a better word, kowtowing to China of late, their new Foreign Minister talking about even offering advice to Australia, that we ought to, sort of, ease up on the way we talk about China. This is not helpful from such a close economic partner from, with us, and also, obviously, a key member of our security alliance.

Tehan: So, my New Zealand counterpart, the Trade Minister, gave me a call last week and he said to me that, look, he understood that New Zealand will pursue their trade interests — their commercial interests — how they see fit, and Australia should do the same. And, when it comes to giving advice as to how that should be done, it’s best that they stick to their interests, and we stick to ours and that was very good of him to make that call. I’m looking forward to these detailed bilateral discussions we’ll hold this coming Friday. Obviously, APEC will be a key point of discussion there. New Zealand are hosting APEC this year, and my hope is, if we can continue to get the virus under control and the vaccine rollout can work globally, we might even be able to have a face-to-face meeting, at least at the trade ministers’ level, as part of New Zealand’s hosting of APEC this year. And, that would be a great way to bring people back, face to face, to talk about the trade challenges we, at the moment, confront and to have all Asia-Pacific leaders around the table doing that, I think, would be a fantastic achievement. So …

Kenny: … Is that why China is being weak, is because they’re worried about APEC and wanting to make sure everything’s smooth in the lead up to APEC?

Tehan: Oh, look, New Zealand will pursue their interests, and the upgrade to their FTA –  you’ve got to remember, they negotiated their FTA with China well before we did, and we were able to, through some very good negotiating, get an excellent outcome on our China FTA and the changes that have been made and recently announced, our assessment is, bring New Zealand up to about where we’re at with our China FTA. So, we can understand why they want to pursue those commercial outcomes, as they should, and we’ll continue to have a very close and warm relationship with New Zealand, as is shown by this meeting, which will be the first official bilateral trade ministers’ meeting I’ll hold, this coming Friday.

Kenny: I used to love those bilateral meetings with New Zealand. You always end up in a beautiful location somewhere there on the South Island or North. You know, there’s so many beautiful spots. But, getting back to this, I mean, New Zealand always, also part of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing arrangement. And, they obviously get protection under security agreements, as well. They refused to sign up to a recent statement against China when it came to this Five Eyes intelligence sharing agreement, yet they want to talk soft when it comes to trade negotiations, and want to admonish their other economic partners like Australia. It sounds like New Zealand wants all the benefits of being in security and economic alliances, but they don’t want to carry any of the load.

Tehan: Oh, look, I’m sure that they understand the importance of the Five Eyes relationship, and I’ll be looking forward to having a discussion with my New Zealand counterpart on Friday where we can discuss, you know, what their focus is when it comes to trade policy this year, particularly, as I’ve mentioned, what their focus is for APEC. I think we can really work cooperatively together. There are many challenges that we have on the trade front at the moment. There’s pushes for protectionism and, I think, New Zealand understands how important it is to have a close, positive working relationship with us. We’re the closest of friends, and I’m really looking forward to that discussion and, I think, we’ll get some positive outcomes, and it will reaffirm how close our relationship is, and will continue to be, over the coming years.

Kenny: Dan, good luck with that. When you get a reply from China, when you get a call from the Chinese Foreign, Trade Minister, make sure you let us know first. We’ll put you on air straight away to talk about it.

Tehan: Alright, Chris, I’ll do that. But, I can tell you, in the meantime, there is a hell of a lot for us to get on and do, and that’s what I’ll be doing.

Kenny: Thanks a lot. Dan Tehan there …

Tehan: Cheers.

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