Interview with Tony Jones, 3AW

  • Transcript
Subjects: WTO meeting in Geneva.
14 April 2021

Tony Jones: Joining us on the line now is Trade Minister Dan Tehan, who’ll soon be jetting off to Europe in a bid to secure more doses. He joins us on the line. Good morning.

Dan Tehan: Morning, Tony, how are you?

Jones: Yeah, I'm going well, thanks. Well, desperate times call for desperate measures, and you are actually jetting off to try and lobby face-to-face, are you?

Tehan: So, I'll be flying to Geneva to meet with the Director-General of the World Trade Organization and my counterparts in Berlin in Germany, in Brussels in Belgium, Paris in France, and then off to London and the UK. I’ll be talking about supply of vaccines, and in particular, export restrictions that the EU put in place but also seeking to advance negotiations on our free trade agreements with the UK and the EU.

Jones: Yeah. See, I- look- I mean, if we can just, with all due respect, focus on the COVID issue for the moment. How confident are you that the face-to-face talks will actually result in a greater supply coming to our shores?

Tehan: Well, that's the aim, Tony. We've seen through the EU export restrictions that we've seen three million doses that would have been heading here to Australia and could have been used—a million of them could have been used to help the very fraught situation in Papua New Guinea at the moment—which haven't arrived. I had a phone call yesterday from the New Zealand Trade Minister who heard I was taking this trip, and he wanted to lend his support to my advocacy because he said it's also important for New Zealand, for their planning of the rollout of the vaccine and also for the Pacific countries.

Jones: What are you- you're going over there to go and to bat for New Zealand as well, are you?

Tehan: That's right. The New Zealand Minister was very keen for- to lend his support to the mission.

Jones: Well, I would say the New Zealand Minister can get on a plane and go over there himself and lobby, and you just worry about Australia - without being rude about it.

Tehan: Well, that's very true. Very true. But we're- obviously, we're close partners, and the more countries that we can bring on our side to say to the EU, this isn't the way to go, the better and, so obviously, I'm very keen to say that there are other countries as well who are keen to make sure that contracts are honoured. Because the key thing here is, if contracts aren’t honoured all the planning that is put in place in terms of vaccine rollouts then gets— obviously makes it very difficult to plan with certainty. So that's why we're keen to make sure that the contracts can be honoured, because that means you can then plan with certainty.

Jones: But what contracts are you talking about? Who are these contracts with?

Tehan: Well, the contracts are the one which have caused the issues for Australia with AstraZeneca. So, obviously, we were looking at three million doses of the vaccine coming to Australia and the EU export restrictions put in place have prevented that from happening. And that, in particular, a million of those we were going to provide to Papua New Guinea to help and support them where the COVID situation is fraught and they, as of yet, still haven't arrived. So, it's incredibly important that when contracts are entered into that we can make sure that they're honoured.

Jones: Yeah. But that's with AstraZeneca, isn’t it?

Tehan: That's correct. Yeah.

Jones: But shouldn't our focus now be on Pfizer?

Tehan: Well, Pfizer, so far, have met all their contractual obligations and so they haven't- the export- the EU export restrictions haven't been used against Pfizer. So, they have honoured all their contractual obligations.

Jones: [Talks over] Yeah. But I just-

Tehan: So, we want to make sure that that continues to be the case.

Jones: Yeah. I just would have thought, though, if you were making the effort to actually go over there to lobby, then I'd be lobbying for more Pfizer as opposed to AstraZeneca.

Tehan: So, one of the things that I'll be very, very keen to do is to make sure, when it comes to all the vaccines, that contracts can be honoured—so AstraZeneca, Pfizer and other vaccines which are being used globally—because that's the way all countries can plan with certainty. And also, we need to be looking at ways that we can increase the production of vaccines. So rather than preventing their export, what we need to be doing is actually seeing whether we can work more collaboratively to enhance production of vaccines globally.

Jones: So Minister, could your focus be not just on AstraZeneca and Pfizer?

Tehan: When I meet with the Director-General of the World Trade Organization it will also be about vaccines more generally because there are- we aren’t the only country concerned about this. Majority of countries globally do not have their own domestic production. We do here in Australia, but the majority don't, so they’re all reliant on the supply coming from other countries. And so, there are a lot of countries wanting to ensure that when they enter into contracts with regards to the vaccines, they know with certainty that those contracts can be honoured and that countries won't step in to prevent the supply of those vaccines.

Jones: What’s your benchmark? I mean, what would you be happy coming home- walking off the plane and saying: peace in our time, I’ve come back with X amount.

Tehan: So, the benchmark will be making sure that we can try and get a commitment that there won’t be further disruptions of supply. Now, I don’t know whether I’ll be able to do that or not, but that is what I’ll be seeking to achieve and, also, seeking to see whether we can build likeminded coalitions of other countries who are reliant on getting supply because they don’t have their own domestic production. So that they also can get that certainty so they can plan with certainty their vaccine rollout. So, this isn’t- this isn’t an easy- obviously, we’ve got to remember, also, that many countries, especially many countries in Europe, are going through third waves and that the pandemic is obviously continuing to spread. They’ve got lockdowns. So, it’s not easy, but there is a point of principle here, and a point of principle for a lot of countries being able to plan for their vaccination rollout.

Jones: Are we victims of our own success in a way? And by that, I mean, victims in the successful manner in which we’ve kept this at bay. So, when you go there and you meet- first up, I think you’re meeting with the WTO’s Director General, who you hope will become a firm ally. But when you sort of lay out the figures, I mean, it’s quite, in their eyes, completely irrelevant in the overall COVID scheme of things compared to what they’re going through in other parts of the world. So, is that an actual negative for us?

Tehan: Well, it’s one of the things where we’ve got to point out what we are planning is not only to help and support the rollout here in Australia, but also in our region—and I mentioned before, Papua New Guinea. I mean, it’s incredibly important that we can help and assist Papua New Guinea with their rollout as well and that's why we've asked for a million vaccines for Papua New Guinea. Now, the situation there is as fraught as it is anywhere, and that's why we need to try and get the certainty. So that'll be one of the cases I'll be making. It's why my New Zealand counterpart was in contact with me yesterday because they're not only worried about New Zealand, but also the Pacific region and what would happen if COVID-19 happened to spread into the Pacific. It could have dire consequences there as well. So, it's not just obviously the situation in Australia and in New Zealand to that regard. We have managed COVID-19, I think, better than any other countries in the world. I think we’re the exemplars. But it still doesn't mean that we shouldn’t be able to get access to the vaccine, not only for our own planning purposes, but also for those in our region. And we have to remember, there is still the possibility that we could get an outbreak here in Australia and the more that we can plan the vaccination rollout, the more we can provide safety to our people.

Jones: [Talks over] Which is why I assume that your mission would actually be on behalf of Australia as opposed to other parts of the Pacific region. But anyway, as we say, we are all in this together.

Tehan: We are Tony, and I can guarantee you it will be Australia first, and then making sure we're looking after our good friends second because, ultimately, in the end, I’m the Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment.

Jones: Okay. Alright. Well, very nice to talk to you. When do you head off?

Tehan: Head off at 5:30 this afternoon, Tony.

Jones: Alright. So, what, do you quarantine when you get over there, or have you had both injections?

Tehan: No, I've had one AstraZeneca dose and I will do quarantine when I return. I'll do a test this afternoon, COVID test this afternoon, and the only requirement is for me to do the two weeks’ quarantine when I return back here to Australia.

Jones: How’d you pull up after the AstraZeneca, any little side effects?

Tehan: No, little sore in the arm where the needle went in. My arms aren’t the- I haven’t got the biggest biceps in the world, but other than that, it was fine. So, I'm 53 and in good health and obviously being able to get one dose before I go gives me good protection, so I was grateful for that.

Jones: Alright. We'll work on those biceps over the next 24, 48 hours. You’re going to have to thump a few tables on our behalf.

Tehan: I will Tony, that’s a good idea. [Laughs]

Jones: [Laughs] Alright, good work. The Federal Trade Minister, Dan Tehan, joining us there. So, let's wish him well and hopefully he comes back with some good news for us and New Zealand and Papua New Guinea and anyone else that's riding on his coattails at the moment.

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