Interview with Chris Smith, 2GB

  • Transcript
Subjects: Australia-EU free trade agreement; China; overseas travel.
23 September 2021

Chris Smith: Trade Minister Dan Tehan joins me right now. Minister, welcome.

Dan Tehan: Always good to be with you, Chris.

Chris Smith: It's going to be a fiery conversation when you sit down with your French counterparts. You've got to try and make them separate what's at stake here – a valuable free trade agreement and, you know, their intention to try and support one of their member nations.

Dan Tehan: That's absolutely right, Chris. What we've got to be able to do is say to the French we understand their disappointment with the Naval contract no longer going ahead, and they're obviously disappointed about that, but to understand the importance for the whole of Europe of the Australia-EU free trade agreement. That will give all European Union countries a foothold into the Indo-Pacific, where the economic weight of the world is. It will help create jobs in the EU. And for Australia, what it means is that we get access to our second biggest market, and that creates more jobs here in Australia. One in five jobs right across Australia are dependent on trade, one in four in rural and regional Australia.

Chris Smith: Right, okay. So, it's very important and, you know, the EU and France are joined very closely. I understand why they went into bat for them, but that's just got to be forgotten. The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, I didn't expect her to go into bat so hard. She actually wants you to go over to Brussels and explain to her what we did with the sub deal, doesn't she?

Dan Tehan: Well, what they're looking for is an explanation and, you know, Australians are always happy to sit down with anyone and explain why we've taken the course of action that we have. And why we've done it in this case is we've done it because this is the right decision in our national interest, to be able to get this technology which will keep us safe. And we're happy to go there sit down, talk through it all and also, once again, say to the European Union how important this free trade agreement is.

When I was over there three or four months ago in France, in Germany and in Belgium, they told me that if they can't do a free trade agreement with Australia, who could they do one with in the Indo-Pacific?

Chris Smith: Good point.

Dan Tehan: So, they understand it's in their interests and it's in our interests. And, look, we'll have those conversations and my hope is it will be business as usual with regard to this FTA sooner rather than later.

Chris Smith: All right. Glass half full. That's a good approach. Now, China – have we managed to open any line of communication, or maybe we have but you don't want to tell me?

Dan Tehan: No, look, we haven't at the moment, Chris, apart from at the officials' level, where communication continues. But at the ministerial level, I wrote to my Chinese counterpart in January, set out all the ways that we could work together and the importance of us being able to have that ministerial dialogue, because on some issues we're going to have to agree to disagree, but you should still have those conversations. I'm yet to get a response to that letter, which was written in January.

Chris Smith: Okay. But those who want to leave the country and fly overseas prior to Christmas or spend Christmas in another part of the world will be able to do so, yes?

Dan Tehan: That's – we're on track, Chris, we're on track. So, the 80 per cent national vaccination rate means that we open the international border, and we're on track to reach that by before Christmas. So, I've said it before – everyone, if you're thinking about travelling, have a look at your passport. Make sure that it's up to date because in the US and the UK a lot of people got caught out because they had to get their passport reissued. So have a look at your passport. And we're on track to open those international borders before Christmas, which is great news. Great news for our tourism industry – 660,000 jobs in our tourism industry – and also great news for Australians who are doing their bit, rolling their sleeves up and getting vaccinated, because we're going to be able to travel before Christmas.

Chris Smith: All right. I want to cut this short only because the Prime Minister is speaking in Washington. You don't mind me cutting it short, do you?

Dan Tehan: No, that's – you've got to go to the boss. That's fine by me.

Chris Smith: For the boss. Yes, for the boss. Good trip to Brussels. Keep safe. Thank you very much. Good luck.

Dan Tehan: Thanks, Chris.

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