Interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News Live

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: WTO reforms; UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement; Victorian restrictions.
09 June 2021

Peter Stefanovic: Well, joining me live now is the Minister for Trade and Tourism, Dan Tehan. Minister. Good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So in that speech today, the Prime Minister says we are in a time of great uncertainty not seen since the 1930s. Are we heading for war then?

Dan Tehan: No. What-we're not heading for war. What we need to be doing, though, is making sure when it comes to the rules-based order, that we're doing everything we can to ensure that it remains in place; that we continue to set new rules where we need to and liberal democracies, in particular, make sure that they’re working together to enhance the rules-based order —because that's what stood us in such great stead since the Second World War. It's why we've had peace and prosperity across the globe since the Second World War in the majority of cases —and we've got to make sure that we continue to invest in that rules-based order, and liberal democracies, in particular, have a big role to play in ensuring that it remains in place.

Stefanovic: This push isn't going to help the relationship, though, is it?

Tehan: Look, there is nothing in what the Prime Minister is saying that should alarm any country. What he’s setting out is a policy and approach to make sure that we continue to invest in the rules-based order, because that benefits all countries. It's what’s led to prosperity right across the Indo-Pacific, in particular since the Second World War. It's lifted millions and millions out of poverty and continues to do so. So what he's setting out is a way for the globe to prosper and for countries to come together and to make sure that rules- based order is secure, and we continue to develop and grow it in a way that will lead to further peace and prosperity.

Stefanovic: He talks about penalties that do need to be applied whenever someone steps away from this rules-based order. So what are we talking about here? Are we talking trade sanctions, extra sanctions?

Tehan: So what we're talking about here, and the Prime Minister sets this out in his speech, is the need for us to reform the Dispute Settlement Body of the World Trade Organization, the appellate body, where you appeal disputes, at the moment isn't functioning. So, one of the key elements of resolving disputes globally isn't working and we need to reform the World Trade Organization so that is working again. It's incredibly important that our trade rules are set by the World Trade Organization and that we have that independent umpire to adjudicate those trade rules. That means that every country has to act within the rules, otherwise they'll be penalised if they don't do that. And that's why it's so important that we get World Trade Organization reform at this stage. And the PM sets that out clearly in his speech.

Stefanovic: Would part of a reset of the World Trade Organization mean a reclassification of what China is in terms of- whether China is a developed or a developing country?

Tehan: All those things are obviously open to discussion in a consensus-based body like the World Trade Organization. But what the PM is really setting out to achieve is getting all countries in, and especially the major liberal democracy countries, to look at appellate body reform, look at Dispute Settlement Body reform, so that we have the independent umpire properly functioning and properly working when it comes to settling disputes — and there's never been a more important time for that to be in place. The World Trade Organization also needs to be able to set new rules when it comes to e-commerce or digital trade. So we need all countries joining together to put those rules in place. Things like fishing subsidies, the World Trade Organization has been trying to address those issues now for a number of years. We need to be able to draw those negotiations to a conclusion. We have to show again that we can set rules at the international level that will govern trade. And it's- there's never been a more important time for us to do that.

Stefanovic: Well, part of the problem with the WTO is that countries can game the system for their own advantage, right? So do you believe that China is a developed country or still a developing country?

Tehan: Well, look, the World Trade Organization has actually led to global growth, global economic growth and has led to prosperity. If you look at China, for instance, since it's joined the World Trade Organization, it's seen incredible growth. So it is a country which has benefited from its joining of the World Trade Organization, as other countries have. A country like Australia benefits from the World Trade Organization because otherwise you have global economic heavyweights like China, like the United States, setting the rules amongst themselves and then we get caught in the wake.

So all of us, all of us, will benefit from a properly functioning World Trade Organization, and that’s what the PM is clearly setting out. Consensus based organisation, but one which needs to be back running the world trading rules in a way that countries adhere to those rules, but also that we can set new rules as the world economy changes, especially in that e-commerce and digital space.

Stefanovic: Okay, but just to clarify, do you believe that China should now be a developed country so it doesn’t get those economic advantages?

Tehan: Well, look it’s- this is a consensus-based organisation, so that issue, and other issues, have to be worked through by the World Trade Organization. And they’re obviously open and up for discussion at the moment, and we will continue to work within the World Trade Organization as it deals with that issue and it deals with other issues. But the important thing about the PM’s speech today is about making sure that when it comes to disputes, the World Trade Organization is in a position to adjudicate those disputes and make sure that all countries adhere to that final decision that the Dispute Settlement Body makes. That’s what the PM is setting out clearly here. We need trade rules in place but we also need a body that can adjudicate them. We need an independent umpire.

Stefanovic: Just a couple of quick ones, Minister. Are you frustrated at all that British farmers appear to be holding up the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement?

Tehan: Well, we’ve got six days to go until hopefully we’ll be able to get agreement in principle on this UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement. I was speaking to Liz Truss last night for about an hour and a half. I’ll be talking to her again tonight. We’ve been in daily communication as we count down these last six days. There is issues that we’re still seeking to resolve, but I’m confident that we will get there. But in the end, if the ultimate agreement isn’t in our national interest, then obviously we won’t be signing up to it.

Stefanovic: Yeah, well, British farmers feel they’ll be disadvantaged though because we’ll be- they believe that we’re sending lower welfare meat that’s going to flood their market. Is that a case for them to be concerned about?

Tehan: No, Australia produces the best meat in the world. It’s in demand right across the globe. And what we want to be able to do is offer British consumers the choice of being able to get access to more of our beef, more of our lamb, and we know that British consumers do want to get access to more of our beef and more of our lamb. So, what we’re looking to do is to enable more of our agricultural produce to access the UK market, and what we also want to do is work with UK farmers so that they benefit from our free trade agreement and they can, because they will accede to the CPTPP, so they’ll get access to a much larger market in the Indo-Pacific.

And also, if they look at Australia's experience by opening up our economy, our farmers have benefited. It's made them much more competitive and it's made them much more globally focussed. So since the UK turned their back on us in the early ‘70s and we had to turn to the Indo-Pacific and open our markets up, our farmers have benefited from that and the UK farmers would benefit in exactly the same way by opening up their economy.

Stefanovic: Okay, just finally, just quickly, Minister, because I'm out of time, but have you been given any indication from the Victorian Government that the lockdown will be eased on Friday, which will give some certainty to those perhaps wanting to travel for the long weekend?

Tehan: Look, I haven't been given any indication, but my hope is that those restrictions will be eased and, in particular, I hope in regional and rural Victoria, where we haven't seen cases, that all the restrictions that are still in place there - and there still are - that they will be lifted. But, obviously, the Victorian state government will listen to their medical expert advice. But my hope is that we will start to see movement on those restrictions.

Stefanovic: Dan Tehan. Thanks for your time. Tehan: Thanks Peter.

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