Interview with Sharri Markson, Sky News Extra

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

Sharri Markson: Prime Minister Scott Morrison will travel to the UK for the G7 meeting this week. It will be his first one on one with President Joe Biden. Climate change and China will be on the agenda. There are also hopes that Morrison and Johnson, Boris Johnson, will finalise the trade deal between Australia and Britain. Joining me now to discuss this, Trade Minister Dan Tehan. Good to see you, Minister. You've been in daily discussions with the UK to try and get these trade talks sorted. Does this deal now take on a greater significance given the difficulties we're having with our trade with China?

Dan Tehan: Well, Sharri, a pleasure to join you this evening. And we always should be looking to diversify our trade as much as we possibly can, and that's why the UK free trade agreement presents us with a great opportunity, as does the EU free trade agreement. That would give us preferential access to a market of over 550 million people and help build on the extensive free trade agreement network that we already have, which covers over 70 per cent of our export trade at this moment.

Sharri Markson: Look, you're taking China to the World Trade Organisation over their wine tariffs. It's up to 218 per cent over, I think, five years. Do you have any confidence at all that the WTO will lift a finger to help Australia here?

Dan Tehan: Well, what we've done is we've taken China to the WTO on barley, and we've begun that process and, at the moment, we're at the last stages of considering whether we would also take China to the WTO with regards to wine. We haven't yet made the final decision, but when I became Trade Minister I made it very clear that I would be proactive, principled and patient. And when it comes to when we've seen injury occurring to our exporters, as is the case when it comes to wine, we should take a very principled position, and that means using every avenue available to us to try and right that wrong—and the World Trade Organisation is one of those things that's available. It obviously takes some time, but we're actively considering now whether we should take China to the WTO on wine, and we'll have a decision on that in the coming weeks.

Sharri Markson: Just in terms of the, you know, broader tariffs and trade bans that China's implemented over the past year and a half, you know, of course this has hurt specific businesses and industries, but in your view has it had a negligible impact on the Australian export bottom line of our economy?

Dan Tehan: Well, obviously, two-way trading relationships benefit both countries, and any disruption to that will have some impact, and some of our particular exporters have been hurt by the action that China has taken. But the resilience of our trading performance on the board – across the board – has been quite remarkable, and we have seen our exporters be able to pivot and find new markets. And I think this demonstrates two things:  one is that we have very innovative export sector in this country and second, that –

Sharri Markson: So basically it hasn't hurt us on the whole?

Dan Tehan: On the whole we've been able to pivot well and, as I've as I said, I think it shows the innovation, but also, importantly, the quality of the products that we export. That's stood us in very good stead. Now, there has been an impact on individual exporters, and we shouldn't shy away from that. But, overall, the ability of our export sector to diversify has been quite remarkable, whether it be with some of the actions which have been taken by China, but also the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic as well.

Sharri Markson: Minister, I'm really interested in something Anthony Albanese said on Sky News this morning in an interview with Keiran Gilbert. He said that Australia should be looking to Joe Biden and also a return to the John Howard era in terms of our relationship with China. He seemed to be hinting that we shouldn't be so vocal, Australia shouldn't be so vocal in dealing with China and that might assist it in having a more, you know, normal or peaceful or less difficult, you know, economic relationship. To me, that seemed like a bit of a naïve statement because you can't go back to the Howard government era – too much has changed, we're dealing with a different China under Xi Jinping than we were back then. What's your view on that?

Dan Tehan: Well, there's never been a more important time for us to have a bipartisan approach when it comes to our trade policy, when it comes to our foreign policy, and my hope is that what we'll see from the opposition is a true commitment to that bipartisanship. The last thing we need is a political divide when it comes to how we currently manage the complex strategic environment in the Indo Pacific, our relationship with China, our relationship with the US. What we need is a strong commitment to bipartisanship– and we've seen that from the business community. They've taken very much a Team Australia approach for dealing with the current disputes, in particular, what we've got with China. And my hope is that what we'll see from the opposition is a commitment to bipartisanship and if we don't see that, that would be incredibly disappointing.

Sharri Markson: Dan Tehan, thank you very much for your time this evening.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure, Sharri.

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