Interview with Kath Sullivan, ABC Landline

  • Transcript
Subjects: Australian barley, wine, and table grapes.
17 May 2021

Kath Sullivan: This week will mark one year since China imposed crippling tariffs on Australian barley growers. For an update on where the appeal is at, I sat down with Trade Minister Dan Tehan.


Well, it’s great to have you here for the first time since you’ve been appointed to the Trade portfolio. It’s been four months now since you wrote to your Chinese counterpart seeking to put an end to the trade dispute. Have you had a reply yet?

Dan Tehan: No, not yet, and, obviously, we continue to say that we are very keen to sit down and work through these issues. The best way we can do that is through dialogue. And the complementary nature of both economies has really benefited both nations. Our exports have helped lift millions out of poverty in China and, likewise, Chinese exports to Australia have helped sustain our standard of living.

Sullivan: So what now? Do you keep waiting?

Tehan: Keep waiting. I said when I became Trade Minister that I would take a very proactive stance, that I would take a very principled stance, but also a very patient stance where necessary. So we’ll wait patiently, and in the meantime we'll be very proactive about our other agendas. And that's why I was in the UK and the EU recently, really pushing those free-trade agreement negotiations and seeking to get outcomes while we wait to see if we get a response.

Sullivan: Well, I'm not sure how much barley, Australian barley, the UK would be looking to consume. On that issue, we know the tariffs have been referred to the World Trade Organization. Will you now refer China to the WTO over the wine tariffs?

Tehan: That's something that we've got under active consideration. I've been in discussions with the industry about what is the next course of action and, as I've said, one of the things that I was very committed to when I became Trade Minister was taking a very principled approach. So where there has been injury to our industry then I think we should use all the mechanisms that we have available to us.

Sullivan: So when might you make a call on that?

Tehan: I would assume that we'll be in a position to decide what we're going to do next in the coming weeks.

Sullivan: Okay. It's not just wine grapes that are in hot water with China. I understand there have been significant delays to Australian table grapes. What's your understanding of that situation?

Tehan: Look, we're working through that at the moment. I've been in discussions with the industry around what they're seeing and what they're hearing and we also have our post talking to Chinese officials about this. So we're trying to work out what is the cause of the hold-up. About 80 per cent of our table grape exports seem to have got in seamlessly. It seems to be the last 20 per cent where there are some issues. So-

Sullivan: [Interrupts] So that's 20 per cent of grapes spoiling?

Tehan: Well, potentially, yes. Some of them have been held up at the border. So we're trying to just get an assessment of what's going on and one of the things where the industry can help us is make sure they keep us informed from what they're hearing from their Chinese customers on the ground, so we've got a very good understanding of what’s happening.

Sullivan: [Talks over] Well, it's clear that it's not coming through diplomatic channels. Would you now classify table grapes the same way as perhaps cotton and lobster, and those trades that have been disrupted?

Tehan: We don't want to jump to any conclusions. At first, it seemed like it was just one particular port where there seemed to be a problem so we're trying to work through all of this—and we'll keep assessing it. We'll keep talking to the industry. We understand how important the market is to them, and we want to get to the bottom of it and that's why our officials are also working through this issue with Chinese officials.

Sullivan: Dan Tehan, thanks for your time.

Tehan: Pleasure, Kath. And I look forward to coming back, we’ve got plenty more to talk about. So, I look forward to coming back.

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