Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Barley WTO case with China, Australia-China relationship, Trade diversification, Vaccine shipments from the EU.
16 March 2021

Laura Jayes: I spoke with Dan Tehan, the Trade Minister, earlier and started by asking him what went wrong.

Dan Tehan: So, we’ve had discussions with the Chinese to try and resolve this, as is the normal process. Now, they were very constructive discussions but we weren’t able to resolve the issue. So, now, we will go to the WTO and we’ve asked for a dispute settlement panel to be established to deal with this matter. Now, this is just part of the normal processes which countries follow when they seek to resolve disputes of this matter.

Jayes: You say that discussions were constructive. Does that mean you’ve finally been able to speak to your counterpart?

Tehan: No. All those discussions were, took place, at the official’s level. I’m still waiting for a response to the letter that I sent earlier in the year but our officials have dealt with the Chinese officials on this matter, and we’ve now informed China that we will be seeking to take this matter to the WTO and to establish a dispute settlement panel. And, as we’ve explained to them, and as I’ve explained, as I’ve worked through this with the industry itself, this is part of the normal process. This is why we have the World Trade Organization. It’s the umpire. It’s there to resolve these disputes, and that’s why we’re keen to pursue it in the World Trade Organization.

Jayes: The WTO can take years to look and resolve these kinds of disputes. It doesn’t bode well for our barley growers in the meantime. And, what about beef, wine and coal?

Tehan: So, one of the really positive things is that given the quality of Australian barley, we have seen diversification into other markets, and I commend our barley growers for the way that they’ve sought new markets. They’ve had assistance from the Government through Austrade and we’ll continue to provide that assistance as we work through this matter. This could take a number of years. That’s the way that the dispute settlement process works in Geneva at the World Trade Organization but, in the meantime, we will continue to say to China that we would like to try and resolve this bilaterally, and we would. And, my hope is that we might be able to sit down and resolve this bilaterally, but in the meantime, we will pursue it through the World Trade Organization.

Jayes: It doesn’t bode well when your counterpart hasn’t even responded to your attempts to reach out to him many months ago. Have you re-made an effort or are you just waiting for a response to that original letter?

Tehan: So, when the Prime Minister gave me the great honour of becoming the Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister, I set out three principles which I would adopt when it came to how we would pursue our trade policy. I’d be very proactive — looking to diversify to as many markets as possible, deepen our engagement as many, in as many markets as possible — to be principled in the approach that we take, and then also to be patient. And, I’m happy to be patient in waiting for a reply. I sent a very constructive letter seeking very constructive engagement, and now it’s just the time to be patient and there’s plenty else for me to be doing in my portfolio. There’s new markets to establish, there’s free trade agreements with the UK and the EU. We want to deepen our engagement with India. So, there’s a lot to be getting on and doing, and I’ll just wait patiently for that response.

Jayes: Okay. It sounds like you might be waiting a while. Just finally, Minister, the EU earlier this month blocked shipments of vaccine from reaching Australia. Is that something that you think could be referred to the WTO?

Tehan: Look, it’s not something that we’re looking at at the moment, the use of export restrictions on vaccine. It is something, though, that I’ve discussed with the Director-General of the World Trade Organization and she, like Australia, expressed her concerns with the EU using export restrictions when it came to vaccines, in particular, very concerned about the impact that it might have on the distribution and flow of the vaccines into developing countries. So, we’ll continue to work with the European Union and argue that there is a better way that we can all make sure that the vaccine is delivered globally, and in particular, that we can make sure that the production of the vaccine continues to increase across the globe.

Jayes: I mean, it’s not a good sign, the spirit of goodwill from the EU alone. Is this something you’re going to remember when you start engaging with the European Union on any kind of free trade agreement?

Tehan: Well, I mean, always, and I was at a dinner last night with the European Union ambassadors here in Canberra. We’ll always have very frank discussions with our European partners, and that’s as it should be. And, they’ll pursue what they think is in their best interests and Australia will always pursue what’s in its best interest but we’ve also got to make sure that there has to be give and take and that’s the message that I sent them last night, that if they could make sure that, you know, when it comes to how we negotiate a free trade agreement, that Australia has particular interests that we want to pursue and we understand the EU does. And the most important thing is that we understand where each other’s coming from so that we can reach an agreement which is in the interests of both parties.

Jayes: Dan Tehan, always appreciate your time. Thanks so much.

Tehan: Thanks, Laura.

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