Interview with Johanna Nicholson, ABC Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: India free trade deal.
02 April 2022

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: Australia and India are signing an interim free trade deal today as the Government tries to open up new export markets and reduce economic dependence on China. It comes after a decade of lengthy negotiations and Trade Minister Dan Tehan joins us now. Dan Tehan, good to have you on the program. Take us through the details of this deal and what does Australia stand to gain here?

DAN TEHAN: Well, we stand to gain by getting immediate access to the Indian market tariff free for a number of goods. So, for our wool, for our sheep meat, for our coal, for our critical minerals, for our rare earths, for some of our horticultural produce, 85 per cent of what we export to India will see elimination at entry for tariff free outcomes. And then over time, that will grow to more than 90 per cent. So it's a significant win for our exporters as we get access to the largest fastest growing economy in the world. And when we think that one in five jobs is dependent on our trading relationships, it's one in four in regional and rural Australia — this is an historic outcome, and it's an agreement the size of which means we register it with the World Trade Organisation because it stands on its own two feet as a significant historic outcome.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: I understand one of the main sticking points was agriculture, with Australia wanting access to that Indian market and some of the major Australian agricultural exports, including dairy, chickpeas, beef, they have been excluded from the interim agreement because of some domestic political opposition in India. That will no doubt be a disappointment to some producers. Do you share that disappointment?

DAN TEHAN: Look, we would love to be able to get access for all those sectors into the Indian market but what you have to do is make sure that you can get outcomes — and we're able to get wonderful outcomes for our beef producers and our dairy producers in the UK free trade agreement earlier in the year. So what we've been able to do here, for instance, is get access for lentils, which other countries don't have. We've been able to get access, preferential access, for our wine producers, which other countries don't have. And I can tell you, I've been talking to my counterparts in the UK, in Canada, in the US, they've all been very interested in what we've been up to with India, and they're watching this deal very closely because we have got an important leg up when it comes to the Indian market over our key competitors now and that's fantastic for our exporters.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: This is part of Australia diversifying our trade markets in light of those tensions with China over recent years. Do you expect any response from China on this?

DAN TEHAN: Well, I wouldn't because what we're doing is making sure that we're able to support our exporters into key markets. India is the fastest growing large global economy. We expect that our exports will grow from $15 billion to $45 billion by 2035 as a result of this deal. So that should be welcomed by all countries around the world. The more we can make sure that we've got global trading rules that everyone's adhering to the better it is for growing the global economy, lifting people out of poverty and ensuring that we can all grow our economies together. So, I wouldn't expect there should be any issue with this whatsoever.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: Minister, India has so far refused to condemn the war in Ukraine. In fact, Russia's foreign minister is in India for some trade talks on mitigating the impact of international sanctions on Russia's economy. Was that lack of condemnation from India raised in these discussions at all by Australia?

DAN TEHAN: Well, we continue to have conversations with India about the situation in Ukraine. India has called for peace and the best way that we can have peace is by Russia withdrawing and withdrawing immediately. What they're doing is illegal, it's against the UN charter and it's immoral. So we'll continue to have those discussions but we also understand the circumstances India finds itself in. It's got China on one border. It's got a nuclear armed Pakistan on the other. It's had an historical reliance on Russia for the arms it needs to secure itself. It had 40,000 Indian students in Ukraine when the war began. So, they've got their own unique circumstances, geopolitical environment that they've got to deal with. But importantly for us, and for the Indo-Pacific, by tying our two economies together, the Indian-Australian economies together, it does help provide an important ballast to the geo strategic competition we're seeing in the Indo-Pacific. It's the largest Liberal democracy, 1.2 billion people and the more that we can tie ourselves with India, whether it be through the Quad, which has been a very important strategic development or through this historic bilateral free trade agreement, the better for our long term future and the better for stability in the Indo-Pacific.

JOHANNA NICHOLSON: Trade Minister Dan Tehan, good to have you on the program. Thanks for your time this morning.

DAN TEHAN: Thanks Jo.

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