Interview with Scott Emerson, 4BC Drive

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Trade, Tourism and Investment portfolio, Australia-China trade relationship
27 January 2021

Scott Emerson: 2020 saw a marked deterioration in the trade relationship between Australia and China, whether it was beef, barley, timber, and particularly wine – we've heard this week about massive reductions and imports into China from Australian wine. Things look bad in 2020. Now, since then, we've got a new Trade Minister in Dan Tehan, and I thought I'd get him on the show today to find out how he sees that relationship developing with China over 2021. Minister, thanks for being on 4BC Drive.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you, Scott.

Emerson: Now, you've already written to your Chinese counterpart. What did you say in that letter to him?

Tehan: Oh, look, I won't go into the details out of respect for the new Commerce Minister in China, but he was appointed within about 24 or 48 hours of my appointment as Australia's Trade Minister. I think there's lots of ways that we can have a very constructive engagement when it comes to our trading relationship with China, and that's what I'll be seeking to achieve. And, I'll be seeking to achieve that with a lot of countries across the globe. We want to have a very proactive approach. It's got to be principled, though. And, also, we need to be patient in certain areas. And, the reason that we'll take that approach is because trade and investment creates job, and lots of jobs in this nation. And, that's why, you know, I'll seek to make sure that those three principles govern everything we do in this area.

Emerson: Decisions by China against Australia in terms of trade have been viewed as retaliation over our calls for independent enquiry into COVID. We also saw that list of grievances coming from the Chinese embassy last year, as well. What are you going to be doing differently from your predecessor, Simon Birmingham, to create a better relationship with China?

Tehan: Well, we haven't had a formal trade ministers meeting with China for over three years now. So, this is something that we've been seeking to constructively engage with China on now for over three years. So, look, I'll be just making sure that I continue, at every opportunity, to point out how mutually beneficial our trading relationship is. There's a lot of complementarity between what we send to China, especially when it comes to our agricultural products and our resources. But, there's also a lot of complementarity in how China helps our manufacturing sector here and in other areas, as well. So, there is a lot of complementarity between our two nations when it comes to commerce, when it comes to trade, and when it comes to investment. I'll be seeking to just point that out at every opportunity, whether it be bilateral – but, there's also other opportunities for us to engage – through APEC, and my hope is with New Zealand hosting this year, we'll get opportunities towards the end of the year, maybe get some face to face meetings, go through APEC. There's also the World Trade Organization, where we've worked constructively together to seek to get reform, especially when it comes to how you deal with trade disputes. So, there's a number of areas where we can work constructively together, and my hope is that that's what we'll be able to achieve.

Emerson: Now, you mentioned New Zealand. Over the last 24 hours, we see new agreements being signed between China and New Zealand. And, the view has been put forward that China seems to be much more willing to deal with New Zealand than it is to deal with Australia, at the moment. What is New Zealand doing differently from Australia?

Tehan: Well, look, I'm not 100 per cent sure what New Zealand is doing, and that hasn't been my focus since I came into this portfolio. What I've been focussing on is what I can do, as Australia's Trade Minister, and where we want to take our policies and our approach. And, that's going to be a very proactive approach. It's free trade agreements with the UK and the EU, and we want to try and conclude them this year. Looking to really boost the relationship with India. I think there's enormous opportunities there. We'll have to be patient, but we need to be very proactive when it comes to India. Japan, Vietnam, the new Biden administration, all present many opportunities for us, and that's what I'll be focussing on, as well as seeking to constructively engage with the Chinese. We've got to remember that our free trade agreement with China that we've already got is one of the best free trade agreements that China has with any country. And, New Zealand negotiated theirs before us. And, my view has always been that New Zealand, as a result of what we were able to achieve, has, in many ways, been seeking to get similar access. And, look, we haven't looked at the exact detail of what New Zealand has just negotiated with China but, I think, a close assessment of that probably means that they're starting to get the type of access that we already enjoy through our free trade agreement.

Emerson: Well, it's been seen that New Zealand has not been as vocal on issues of human rights regarding China, the discussion about the origins of the coronavirus, and that is why China is far more willing to deal with New Zealand at the moment, rather than dealing with Australia. Is that the case?

Tehan: Well, each nation, obviously, follows the different approach they take, whether it be to their foreign policy or their trade policy, according to their national interest. That's something that we do as a nation here, and that's why we'll always be proactive, but, also, principled. There are certain principles that we will always adhere to, which we believe are in our national interest. And, the approach that I'll take will be very much one where I'm focussed on what I can achieve for Australia, and making sure that that approach creates jobs in this nation. Because, the reason we trade, the reason we seek investment, is so that we can generate jobs. And, ultimately, in the end, that's what I want to do – is make sure that we've got the best policies in place, which will create as many jobs as we possibly can in this nation. One in five jobs are created in this country as a result of our trading, and it's one in four in regional areas. So, it's incredibly important that we continue to be as proactive as we possibly can.

Emerson: Alright, Federal Trade Minister, thank you for being on 4BC Drive this afternoon.

Tehan: Pleasure, Scott.


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