Interview with Leon Byner, 5AA

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: China, Australia-UK FTA, international students, tourism.
08 June 2021

Leon Byner: And now let's meet again the Federal Trade and Tourism Minister, Dan Tehan. Dan, it's good to talk to you. Welcome.

Dan Tehan: Good to talk to you, Leon. I'm in the Barossa Valley and they've had a good dose of rain here and it's looking absolutely magnificent.

Byner: I bet it is. Now, is Australia going to take China to the World Trade Organization over the wine tariffs? Given that you’re in the Barossa, that would be touching you a little more than usual. What's our plan here?

Tehan: Yeah. Look, we're looking at it very seriously, Leon. We're seeing whether we have a strong case to take. We've gathered all the information from the industry that we think we need, and now we're actively considering whether to pursue a case. We did it with barley, and if we think we've got a strong case on wine, then that's what we'll do. We think we need to take a very principled stand when our industries are being injured by action taken by other countries—and so it- we’ll make a decision in the next couple of weeks, but at this stage it looks highly likely.

Byner: Yeah, because I know the industry’s very keen for you to do that. Very keen.

Tehan: Yes, they are. They've suffered great loss as a result of what's happened.

Byner: Yes.

Tehan: And their resilience in being able to find other markets has been quite extraordinary. But we do want to make sure that this type of behaviour can’t occur, and that's why we want to go to the independent umpire, the World Trade Organization, to see whether we can get action taken which would prevent China continuing its behaviour.

Byner: Is there concern, though, of retaliatory action if you do this?

Tehan: Look, our hope would be that no, that isn't the course of action the countries take. The WTO is used by China and others as the independent umpire, and when countries go to the WTO it's seen as something that's available to you to address where you deem injury has occurred to a sector or an industry. So, our hope would be that there shouldn't be any reason why that would occur.

Byner: All right. Now, where are we at with, for example, the dispute over barley with China?

Tehan: So a panel has been established and third party independent observers have also notified the WTO that they will observe this case, and that includes New Zealand, the US, the EU who are- and others, who are all taking an interest in this. Now that the panel has been established, we’ll start to present the arguments as to why the action that has been taken by China, we think, was wrong and that they need to address it.

Byner: I understand the new barley markets have opened up for us - Australia - after China stopped buying our product.

Tehan: That's correct. Markets in India, in Mexico and elsewhere have opened up, and, once again, the resilience of our export sector has been on display and we've been able to get new markets—and the reason is because we make such world-class class barley. We are a world class producer of the best barley in the world, and that's something that we can hang our hat on when it comes to these current disputes – that the products that we make are world class, and that's meant we are able to access other markets

Byner: Now, while we're on the business of trade, where do we stand with our- a free trade deal with us and the UK?

Tehan: We're trying to finalise it in the next six to seven days to get an agreement in principle. I spoke with my counterpart Liz Truss, the UK Trade Minister, last night for about an hour and a half. I'll be talking to her again for about an hour and a half this evening. So we're in the final part of the sprint to try and get agreement in principle when our Prime Minister meets with Boris Johnson next week. We're not quite there yet, there's still a few things we've got to work through, and there’s a- we're a little bit apart on a couple of issues. But we are working tirelessly to try and see whether we can resolve it in the next six to seven days.

Byner: Will the trade issue feature at this week's talks in Cornwall between the Prime Minister and other world leaders?

Tehan: Oh, look, I've got no doubt they will. I think one of the things that's been very high on the topic in the lead up to the G7 has been the use of economic coercion and how we can try and restrict and limit economic coercion being used. So, there will be- trade will be definitely, I think, part of the discussion of leaders when they meet.

Byner: Where are you- on another issue for which you have portfolio responsibility, where are we with bringing international students to Australia and indeed SA, because that's a very important part of our education economy, isn't it?

Tehan: It is, and progress has been made, and I've got to commend the South Australian Government, they've put a very detailed plan together to the Commonwealth Government to set up a quarantine facility here in SA, which would be above the cap for returning Australians to be able to begin to bring back international students. Now, my understanding is that that's under consideration at the moment. It's something that obviously is very important both for South Australia and for the rest of the nation.

But we've also got to make sure we take the medical advice on these things. And that's what we're going through at the moment, because Australia has an outstanding record globally for how we've dealt with this virus and, and obviously, health and safety comes first. But as we look at this and look at the proposal, then I'm sure we’ll be doing what we can to get international students coming back into this country.

Byner: All right. Now, given between now and the end of the year - we're virtually halfway through already, time flies so much - where are we at with tourism? Have we - in the horizon we look at, is it likely that things are going to get better or is it still going to be pretty slow because of COVID?

Tehan: A really good question. Domestic tourism obviously continues to be very strong, and if I could just say to all your listeners, as you're travelling around South Australia or travelling around Australia, please remember that the more you can spend as you’re out travelling, the more you're supporting over 600,000 jobs in our tourism industry. So that- the domestic tourism industry is standing up very strongly, we've obviously got our bubble with New Zealandnd, and depending what happens with this third variant of the coronavirus, hopefully, we’ll be in a position to open up with other Pacific islands and potentially with countries in South-East Asia: Singapore, Vietnam, et cetera. But the issue at the moment is, is that those countries, countries like Fiji, Singapore, Vietnam are currently going through third waves and so we've just got to make sure, obviously, that as we do continue to expand our bubble, it is safe to do so.

Byner: I notice that Standard and Poor's have reiterated our AAA credit rating, for which Treasurer Frydenberg has got to take a bit of credit. I think he's doing a remarkable job at the moment.

Tehan: Oh look, I do, too. And it is quite remarkable what we've all achieved, and all Australians have achieved - especially our small business and business community have achieved in getting the economy back. But now we're in a better position. Our economy is stronger than what it was when it went into the pandemic. And one of the key things that Standard and Poor's said, that has been a great success of our economic recovery, is that we haven't had the scarring when it comes to employment. Youth unemployment is usually the thing which is scarred when you go through a recession yet the bounce back, we have more young people employed now than we did 11 years ago.

So, it is quite, quite remarkable what we've achieved and, in particular, making sure that we haven't got long term unemployment, long term youth unemployment as a result of the recession.

Byner: You're in the Barossa. What wine have you chosen to take back with you?

Tehan: Oh, I haven't yet. I've literally just arrived. But I'll look forward to having to look around and seeing which one takes my fancy. I like a full-bodied Shiraz. So having that with a steak on the barbecue on a Friday night after a long week is one of my favourite things. So I’ll- that's what I'll be on the lookout for.

Byner: Dan Tehan, thank you.

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