Interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement.
16 June 2021

Neil Mitchell: Now, Australia and the UK have agreed, as I said, on a new free trade agreement - not quite signed yet, looking for detail on it. How does it benefit Australia? What's in it for you other than suddenly getting cheap Marmite? And who on earth would want cheap Marmite? We've already had a debate about that. On the line is the Federal Trade Minister, Dan Tehan. Good morning.

Dan Tehan: Morning, Neil. Great to be with you.

Mitchell: Thank you. From our Canberra studio, I hasten to add. Are we short of lawyers?

Tehan: Look, we want to make sure that lawyers can freely move between Australia and the United Kingdom, that accountants can and other professions. They can go for six months, they can work on projects, they get great experience, and the more that we can free up the movement of people between Australia and the United Kingdom, the more it benefits both countries.

Mitchell: But the way it's being reported is that lawyers, British lawyers, will be able to practise here without requalifying. Who else does that apply to?

Tehan: No, that's - that's not true. They have to go through the qualification processes. Those agreements are reached out between the bodies in the UK and here in Australia and where they come to mutually agreeable arrangements, then they can do so. And one of the …

Mitchell: Well this is from the UK Department of International Trade, quote: UK lawyers will be able to practice in Australia without having to requalify as an Australian lawyer.

Tehan: So, that will depend on agreements being reached between the legal profession here and the legal profession in the United Kingdom. If they've got those agreements in place, then lawyers will be able to move on a six-month basis between each other's countries, to work on important projects and really enhance their own skills, and we see this, very much, as a win-win.

Mitchell: So, I just want to get this clear because the Brits are saying English- British lawyers can come here and work here tomorrow, now, well not- when the deal’s signed, and you're saying that won't happen unless there's an agreement from local bar councils, et cetera?

Tehan: Well, yes. All the- the way it works here in Australia is that the relevant legal body set the qualifications as to when lawyers can come in here and practice and they have agreements with various countries as to what's required. So that agreement will be reached between our lawyers’ legal profession and the UK legal profession.

Mitchell: Okay. Well what about British companies being able to bid for Australian Government contracts?

Tehan: Yes, government procurement is another outcome of this agreement and Australian companies will be able to bid for government procurement outcomes in the UK.

Mitchell: So- okay. But if there's a bid, if there's a bidding war going on here, do the Australian companies get precedence over the British companies or not?

Tehan: Well, what happens is we get the best deal that's in the interests of the Australian taxpayer and, likewise, when it comes to the UK and, obviously, that is an enormous government procurement market given the size of the United Kingdom, and something that Australian companies have been seeking is to get access to that government procurement market in the United Kingdom. So, once again, frees up the ability of companies in both nations to bid when it comes to government procurement, and it's a win-win for both countries.

Mitchell: But at the moment, what happens?

Tehan: At the moment, there is a much more limited ability to be able to access those government procurement markets.

Mitchell: So, in that sense, it is going to affect Australian companies who are bidding for government work because, suddenly, the British will be in there as well?

Tehan: Well, they'll still have the same opportunities to bid for here in Australia but, also, they'll have more opportunities to bid in the United Kingdom as well, and ultimately, in the end, that's a good outcome for the Australian taxpayer.

Mitchell: Well, it depends on whether you're doing business there, I suppose. What are we actually import in large numbers from Britain other than wine and whisky, which Boris Johnson seemed riveted by?

Tehan: Yeah. So, automotives.

Mitchell: Oh, really? What?

Tehan: Yes. So, the British made motor vehicles, we …

Mitchell: What are they?

Tehan: Well, your traditional Land Rovers and other cars…

Mitchell: Yeah. What else? What else? I think the British motor industry is on its knees. What is there other than the Land Rover?

Tehan: Oh, no, it's not on its knees. It's actually having a bit of a renaissance. And it's one of the key areas that they were very keen to get access for. British confectionary is another area …

Mitchell: So what other cars are made? I’m fascinated…

Tehan: Oh, it's you've - you've got me there. I can't rattle off the - the British automobiles off the top of my head but it was…

Mitchell: Well, you see, Land Rovers sells about 250 a month in Australia, so it's not massively popular or that’s not going to help us much.

Tehan: So, there was- this was a key ask of the United Kingdom and, obviously, been able to give them that key ask, it's meant for our rice growers, they get immediate access to the UK market. Our sugar growers get 80,000 kilotons of sugar immediately into the UK. When it comes to beef and sheep meat, our lamb producers get 25 kilotons immediately, our beef producers get 35 kilotons immediately. So- and our dairy producers also get immediate access and over five years the elimination of all tariffs. So, for our agricultural producers, a real win.

Mitchell: But the British cars – I just want to, so the British cars that are going to be made cheaper, are all top end of town, aren’t they?

Tehan: Not necessarily. No. So I think they …

Mitchell: Because there’s some Nissans but we sell next to none of them.

Tehan: Yeah, so, I must admit, I'm not a student of British automotives, but I do know that this was one of their key asks as part of this agreement. As far as we’re concerned, if we can get access to British automotive cars or parts-

Mitchell: But this is part of the point I’m trying to drill into, we buy less than 10,000 a year, British cars.

Tehan: Well, my- well, and what we’ve done in exchange for saying that we’ll reduce the tariffs on British automotives, it means that we get better access to the UK market. I would have seen that’s a complete win for us, Neil.

Mitchell: Well, we’re not making too many cars to sell over there, are we?

Tehan: No, but we’re growing the best beef, the best lamb, the best rice, the best sugar, the best dairy products that we can send to the UK. And you’ve got to remember Neil, 50 years ago our farmers lost out when the UK turned to the EU, and this rights that wrong. And it’s- this is a big win for Australian farmers.

Mitchell: Does the luxury car tax come off?

Tehan: No.

Mitchell: So, that 5 per cent stays?

Tehan: It stays.

Mitchell: Alright. What about staying in- what’s the deal on Australians moving to stay in the UK and vice versa?

Tehan: Well, obviously, if you’re under 35 you can now go to the UK and stay for 3 years on a working holiday maker visa equivalent and, likewise, for anyone under 35 in the UK, they’ll be able to come to Australia and stay for 3 years and work and holiday here. So, that’s a good outcome for young Australians and young Brits.

Mitchell: The Farmers’ Federation has been in touch. Compulsory farm work scrapped for British kids wanting to come and live here for up to three years-the backpacker thing. Do you think backpackers will voluntarily work on the farms?

Tehan: So, another really good outcome from this is we are establishing, for the first time, an agriculture and agribusiness visa. A specific visa which will be available for young people in Britain, or older people in Britain, to be able to come and work in Australia’s agricultural sector, and what we’ll be looking to do is also expand that visa to other countries, as well. And that means, for the first time, something that our regional and rural Australia has been asking for, a specific agricultural-agribusiness visa is in place and so, this is another real win especially for regional and rural Australia.

Mitchell: Will that extend to ASEAN nations?

Tehan: Look, that's under consideration by the government at the moment, but we want to look at extending it to ASEAN countries and to other countries.

Mitchell: Okay, so bottom line benefit to Australia is what, selling or buying?

Tehan: Well, bottom line benefit is that we'll get access to British goods at a cheaper rate, which is- so if you've got a preference for British goods here in Australia you'll get them more cheaply and, when it comes to what we're sending to the UK, in particular, what this has done for our agricultural producers is a real win…

Mitchell: What are the British goods?

Tehan: … immediate access in rice, in immediate access for sugar, for beef, for lamb and for dairy products, and that's something we've been fighting for for over 50 years, Neil.

Mitchell: Okay. What are the British goods that we buy?

Tehan: Well, we buy a lot of British confectionary, auto parts, automotive, I mentioned whisky. They're the sort- the headline areas that the British were very keen to get further access into Australia for, but there's a raft of other goods as well that obviously will be covered by this.

Mitchell: And the visas, will there be any caps on those visas?

Tehan: So, when it comes to the agriculture and agribusiness visa, that's something that we're working through. My hope, and what we're aiming for, especially when it comes to the UK, is that that would be uncapped, like the working holiday maker visa is for that second year of having to work on the 88 hours.

Mitchell: And when will this be up and running?

Tehan: Up and running, all going well, by 1 July, the agreement entering to force. We’ve obviously got to do the legal scrubbing of a 600 to 800-page text and get all that finalised. It has to go through the- both the parliaments and then up and running 1 July. In terms of all the visa changes, there's a five-year timeframe to get all those visa changes up and running,

Mitchell: Will it be necessary- be a quarantine pathway for visa holders?

Tehan: Well, obviously, that depends on where we are with the pandemic and what requirements are put in place by our medical health experts in the next 12 months, waiting, obviously, for the entry into force. But with all those things- those sorts of things are also taken into consideration.

Mitchell: Just finally, a lot of people are clearly interested in the motorcars. I understand that, you know, it's not your area of expertise, but who owns Land Rover, do you know?

Tehan: No, I don't off the top of my head.

Mitchell: Okay. I’m told it's an Indian company called Tata.

Tehan: Right. Okay. I've got to say, Neil, my focus through all this has been making sure we get the wins for Australian exporters seeking to get into the United Kingdom.

Mitchell: Fair enough, but the vehicle industry is being touted as one of the wins and I just can't see where it is a win for us, frankly.

Tehan: Well, it’s- I mean, based on why the UK pushed so heavily for access- cheaper access or tariff free access, for its automotive industry for Australia, so that's on basis on the UK understanding of what its interests are and obviously, we've been very keen to pursue our interests.

Mitchell: Thank you very much for speaking to us. I appreciate your time, and I know you need to get away. Dan Tehan, the Trade Minister.

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