Interview with Libby Price, ACE Radio Network Country Today
Libby Price: Joining us is Federal Trade Minister Dan Tehan. Dan, welcome to Country Today.
Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you, Libby.
Price: Is there currently any conversation with China at all?
Tehan: There is at the officials’ level. Unfortunately, not at the ministerial level. I’ve written to my counterpart. He was made Chinese Trade Minister at the same time I was made Australia’s new Trade Minister and, so, I congratulated him on his appointment, said that I look forward to working with him and would be very keen to meet with him. But, unfortunately so far, no response.
Price: And, what is said at official level?
Tehan: So, at officials’ level we’ve been trying to work through these current disputes, and as you mentioned, there’s quite a few of them at the moment. There’s quite good dialogue, but, unfortunately, we’re not able to resolve anything at this stage, and that’s why we’ve taken barley to the World Trade Organization, the independent umpire, and that’s why we’re looking to see whether we will do the same thing with wine.
Price: It’s interesting with the fodder industry, the export fodder people, they’re really not wanting to engage in it for fear of offending China and making things worse. Are you aware of these less explicit trade barriers China is doing, by simply not renewing import licences?
Tehan: I am, and I’ve spoken with the fodder industry, and one of the things that we’re looking at there is to make representations because sometimes these things can just be delays, and we’ve seen that in other cases. So, officials are investigating, trying to see whether this is just bureaucratic delays, which can happen from time to time, or to see whether this is something more permanent, and we’ll continue to engage with the fodder industry as we work through this.
Price: What’s your approach to this? Is an apology or some kind of olive branch an option?
Tehan: Look, we’ve made it very clear we want a very constructive engagement with China. The complementarity of our two economies has helped both our people obviously improve their standard of living, including in China, where millions have been lifted out of poverty. So, we will continue to say to China that we want constructive engagement. But, at the same time, we’ve made very clear that we will protect our national interests and we will protect our sovereignty, and that’s something that we won’t negotiate on.
Price: I guess we need them more than they need us. Can you lean more on the United States to pressure China?
Tehan: Well, we’ve seen from the United States great support, especially over the last couple of weeks where they made it very clear, the head of the, or the czar of the Indo-Pacific in the Biden administration, Kurt Campbell, said that Australia will not be left on the playing field alone and, so, the US have made quite clear they’ve got our back. So, look, we’ll continue to use every diplomatic channel that we have to obviously break this current impasse and get things back on an even keel with China, and that’s what I’ll continue to work on. I’ve spoken with my US counterpart, Japanese counterpart, counterparts in ASEAN, in Europe. All of them are very interested with what’s going on and are offering their support to us to try and break this impasse.
Price: So, what’s your expectation from here? Is it only likely to get worse before it gets better?
Tehan: Hard to tell. I hope not, and we obviously still are sending very clear signals to the Chinese Government that we want a constructive relationship, that it’s in both countries’ interests that we do that, and my hope is that we’ll get a resolution sooner rather than later. But, in the meantime, we’ve got a lot to get on with. We’ve got the UK free trade agreement we’re currently negotiating, the EU free trade agreement we’re currently negotiating — that gets us preferential access to another 500 million people if we conclude those. There’s current work with the Biden administration in the US. Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, very important ASEAN markets for us. Japan and South Korea, traditional partners, we can deepen, further deepen engagement there. There’s a lot for us to do. APEC, as we come out of the pandemic — being hosted by New Zealand — we want to really kick APEC into gear. I’ve been talking to our farm leaders. One of the things that I’m very keen to do is get the Cairns Group, and the Cairns Group of Farm Leaders are very active, so we can push for greater outcomes on subsidies at the World Trade Organization. So, there’s plenty on the agenda and that’s what we’ll get on and do. And, my hope is that over time we’ll be able to resolve these issues with China.
Price: Let’s certainly hope so. Dan Tehan, thank you so much for your time.
Tehan: Pleasure, Libby.
Price: Federal Trade Minister Dan Tehan.
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