Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: OECD ministerial meetings, AUKUS, free trade deals.
04 October 2021

Kieran Gilbert: Let’s turn our attention now to the diplomatic fallout of the AUKUS announcement and the submarine decision. Of course, angry French President Emmanuel Macron has led some of the reaction, and the Trade Minister Dan Tehan has reportedly not been given a meeting with his counterpart in Paris. So, let’s go live to Paris and find out what’s happening with the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Dan Tehan. Minister, thanks so much for your time. What’s the reception been like in Paris?

Dan Tehan: Well, Kieran, I just arrived in late last night. It’s 7.30 in the morning here Paris time and about to begin a round of discussions about the OECD, but I will be starting off with a meeting with tourism wholesalers later this morning, from France, and looking forward to meeting with them as we discuss the wonderful news that the international border is going to reopen, and we’re going to be looking forward to bringing tourists back obviously later this year or early next year. So, just about to begin those rounds of discussions here in France at the OECD ministerial meeting.

Kieran Gilbert: Yeah, I look forward to talking to you – I want to talk to you about the OECD in a moment, but French Government, the Trade Minister have – what’s been the reaction? Have they said they’re not going to meet with you? What’s happening on that end, and are you confident that this delay in the EU trade negotiations will only be a month; that you will be able to get that back on track?

Dan Tehan: So, the French Trade Minister who I met with last time I was here in France, has declined to meet with me this time, but that invitation remains an open one from Australia’s point of view. With regards to the EU, I will be meeting with Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU Trade Representative, the night after next to discuss the twelfth round of negotiations. I look forward to those discussions. We made real progress in rounds 10 and 11 and now we obviously want to make sure this twelfth round, which will take place now in November, rather than October, is as fruitful as the previous two rounds as we really move towards an endpoint on this EU–Australia free trade agreement.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay, so you’re still hopeful of securing that?

Dan Tehan: Look, obviously it’s very much in the interests of the European Union. It’s in the interests of Australia. When it comes to the European Union, Australia gives them that wonderful foothold into the Indo–Pacific where the economic weight of the world is. So, we’ll look forward to continuing to progress those discussions. Obviously, they haven’t moved as fast as the UK free trade discussions. We were able to get that agreement in principle in the middle of the year. But we’ll keep making sure that we pursue them because we think they’re in the interest of Australia and in the interest of the EU.

Kieran Gilbert: And on those OECD ministerial meetings, I note that one of the sessions is a plenary on a green future and getting to net zero. This is a big priority in Europe, isn’t it? You expect to receive a bit of pressure on that front because to this point the Government has still not committed to that target?

Dan Tehan: I’m very much looking forward to these discussions and being able to explain in detail the process that Australia is going through at the moment, what we’re doing with regards to renewable energy, the targets that we’ve met and continue to meet when it comes to renewable energy, what we’re doing in the hydrogen space – an extraordinary amount of work in the green hydrogen space. When I was in the United Arab Emirates, the CSIRO are working with their largest sovereign wealth fund on a project with regards to green hydrogen. In India, they wanted to talk about our partnership when it comes to hydrogen in particular.

So, look, we’re one of the world leaders when it comes to looking at what will be the new energy sources which will help the world decarbonise. So, these will be really interesting discussions at the OECD. Everyone needs to play their part and Australia is playing its part.

Kieran Gilbert: Doesn’t it reinforce the point that Josh Frydenberg made just a couple of weeks ago that international capital markets have made their intentions clear and our big trading partners have made their intentions clear? There is – essentially, Australia’s got to get onboard?

Dan Tehan: Well, Australia is on board and that’s the point. Can I tell you when it comes to the Indo–Pacific, the approach that we’re taking, in particular, is one that is welcome right around the region. We’re doing a ground-breaking agreement with Singapore on green energy and there is great interest when it comes to India and other countries around the Indo–Pacific around that agreement. When I was in Indonesia a few days ago, they are very keen to follow the progress of our negotiations with Singapore on that agreement and might seek to join it.

So, the approach that Australia is taking, especially in our region, is one that is very much welcome. We have to have the technology. We have to be able to share the technology if we’re going to get to net zero by 2050. Everyone understands it. It’s very easy to say that’s where you want to get to. It’s how you’re going to do it. And I can tell you, every discussion that I have, that’s what’s dominating the conversation. How are we going to do that? And they look to Australia and they know that we are actually trying to get the technology road map in place to achieve it, and they want to work with us. And so I’m very comfortable with the discussions that we’ll have here, that we’ll be very much seen as playing our part and they will be very interested in what we’re doing.

Kieran Gilbert: You’ve had a couple of days in the UAE, which you alluded to earlier, meeting with a number of ministers, and some indications from the UAE as well that they’re keen on a free trade agreement with Australia. How promising is that and when can it be secured by, in your view?

Dan Tehan: Yeah, I met with the UAE Trade Minister Dr Thani yesterday – sorry, the day before – and we had a wonderful discussion. They are very keen to do a free trade agreement with us, and they’re very keen to make sure that we can progress as soon as possible. Now, when I was in India, we also had some real breakthroughs there. Minister Goyal, the Indian Trade Minister, is looking forward to move at pace on an India Australia free trade agreement as well. So, I’m looking forward to going back and discussing with the PM and our Cabinet colleagues the interest from the United Arab Emirates. They’d be keen to move as soon as early next year, January or February next year, so I’ve obviously got to consult with the PM and my Cabinet colleagues, but they see Australia as a key priority for doing an FTA.

Kieran Gilbert: Well, that’s promising. The other FTA which we should mention – I believe that the final official signing might be happening over coming days in London; is that right? After you’re in Paris, you will be finalising that UK FTA? Is that the situation?

Dan Tehan: Well, I will be heading to London. We’re still ironing out the last details on that free trade agreement. We got the agreement in principle, which was about 12 or 16 pages. We’re now turning that into a 600-pages legal text. There’s all these fine details that we need to nut out and we’re continuing to do that, but we’re making rapid progress. My hope has always been to try to get this done and dusted this year. We’re on track to make it the quickest major FTA we’ve ever negotiated, and I’m continuing to talk with my UK counterpart. We had a discussion when I was on the plane yesterday. We had one the day before. So, inch by inch, centimetre by centimetre, we’re getting there, Kieran, but there’s still some details we’re working through.

Kieran Gilbert: So, you’re hopeful of getting there within the week?

Dan Tehan: Look, hopeful of getting there within the week or by the end of the month. So, we continue to progress. I can tell you we’re leaving no stone unturned as we go through the fine details but turning what was roughly around 15 pages into 600, there’s always those I’s to dot and T’s to cross. But both sides are entering into it with the right spirit and look hopefully we will have it done sometime this month.

Kieran Gilbert: Dan Tehan, Trade Minister, thanks for joining me live from Paris. Appreciate it.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure.

Media enquiries