Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Israel free trade agreement, Australia-China relationship, Australia-India relationship, New Zealand Trade Minister comments
03 February 2021

Laura Jayes: Well, the global pandemic and Australia's ongoing stoush with China has accelerated our need to diversify our customer base when it comes to trade. India is the obvious alternative, with its population in the billions and slowly rising out of poverty, and, of course, there's the newly independent United Kingdom, too. The new Trade Minister has a task ahead of him, but will also focus on some smaller deals, and Israel is in his sights. He joins me now. Dan Tehan is the Trade Minister. Dan Tehan, thanks so much for your time. Why Israel? Is it lucrative?

Dan Tehan: Well, it is. We've got strong economic relationships already with Israel, but I think we can build on those, and especially in new areas around innovation, cyber security, defence. I think there are enormous opportunities for our two countries if we were able to sign a free trade agreement. So, we've announced that we're undertaking a scoping study. I've asked that that be concluded by June 30 so, if we're able to finish negotiations with the UK and the European Union this year, we're ready to go with beginning free trade negotiations with Israel — if we can reach agreement to do that.

Jayes: Okay. What would we provide them? What would the Israeli customers buy from us?

Tehan: Well, there's our wonderful agricultural products, which I'm sure that they would love to get better access to, but, also, there's our services. We are a world-leading services provider. So, whether it be in areas like education, professional services, legal services, all those areas, in cyber security, we're doing some outstanding work in this country to improve our cyber defences. In Israel, they're a world-leader. So, I think the investment relationship there and the technological know-how that we could exchange and benefit from would really benefit both nations. So, there's a lot of opportunities there, and I really think it's another way that we can expand the reach of our trade footprint, through a free trade agreement with Israel.

Jayes: Well, a little-known fact that much of the broadcasting that you see in television stations, including Sky News, these days, is out of Israeli technology with this LiveViews, which is actually developed out of Mossad, their spy agency. So, perhaps we can expand on that a little later at another time. But, you have been tasked with this huge job of getting the Chinese relationship back on track. What are you going to do? What are your plans there?

Tehan: Well, what I've done is, at the same time that I was appointed there was a new trade minister appointed in China, so I sent a very detailed letter to the new Chinese Trade Minister setting out all the ways that we can work collaboratively together, and setting out why it's in both our mutual interests that we have a dialogue around our trade relationship. We haven't had an official trade ministers meeting with China for over three years now and, look, it was a very constructive letter, and I'm happy now to patiently wait for a reply.

Jayes: So, you haven't had a reply?

Tehan: No, I haven't had a reply but the letter was sent after Christmas. These things can take time, and we've got plenty to do in the meantime. We've got our UK and EU free trade agreements to negotiate. There's APEC, where New Zealand are hosting this year, where we want to get it up and running again …

Jayes: … But, Minister, have the Chinese, and has your counterpart, even acknowledged the receipt of that letter?

Tehan: Look, I'm not going to go into the details around what's been acknowledged or what hasn't been acknowledged but we were on a hook-up, on a mini ministerial, for the World Trade Organization on Friday night. There was 30 ministers. It's a forum which is hosted by the Swiss Government and there we were talking very constructively, all countries that are on that call, about what needs to be done on World Trade Organization reform. Our officials, obviously, continue to hold dialogue. So, we'll continue to explore ways to have a very constructive engagement with China, and I'm looking forward to, hopefully, having a very constructive relationship with my new counterpart.

Jayes: Well, you haven't mentioned India, and this is the big alternative, if you like. If you compare the level of population, India has a potentially a billion, more than a billion customers for Australia. There's been a free trade agreement in the works there for almost a decade. Why is it so difficult to get done in India? And, are you hoping for some kind of breakthrough there?

Tehan: Yeah, look, I would love to see a breakthrough when it comes to India. I agree with you. I think it is an enormous opportunity for Australia, and especially in the current geostrategic climate, I think there's, it's in Australia's interest to engage more deeply with India and, I think, it's in India's interest to engage more deeply with Australia. So, we're going to begin discussions again with India in March and, my hope is that we will be able to make some serious headway. It's not going to be easy …

Jayes: … What's been the problem there?

Tehan: Look, it's incredibly difficult circumstances that, in India, as they deal with trade liberalisation — their economy is a very different economy to ours and, obviously, they want to make sure that the sectors that are dear to them, and especially their agriculture sector, that they're able to develop and grow in a way that they're competitive globally before they feel like they're very confident to be able to engage with other countries. But, there are ways that we can work with India on that and I was talking to Grains Australia last night, and one of the ways that we think we could support and help is by getting further investment into India, into their milling capacity. You might do that in ports, which would enable us to be able to get our grain in to help their milling capacity. So, these are the types of suggestions that we need to be putting to the Indian Government as to how we can work with them, so we can build the capability of their agricultural sector and actually work with them and help them to develop it so it's not in a way that would threaten their capabilities. It's a way which would actually enhance it.

Jayes: And, just finally, have you had a quiet word to your counterpart in New Zealand? You two need to be on the same page when it comes to China, don't you?

Tehan: Oh, look, we've had a number of discussions since I've been appointed, and I'm holding my first bilateral, formal bilateral discussions, will be with New Zealand on Friday. He made some comments. He rang me about those comments and said that, you know, he understands he shouldn't speak for Australia and, look, I really appreciated the fact that he picked up the phone and did that. And, I'm looking forward to the discussions that we're going to be having on Friday on a range of issues but, in particular, New Zealand's hosting of APEC this year, because it's incredibly important that we can bring all Asia-Pacific nations together again through APEC.

Jayes: Dan Tehan, thank you.

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