Interview with Warwick Long, VIC Country Hour

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-UK Free Trade agreement; Ag Visa; China trade dispute.
17 December 2021

WARWICK LONG: Dan Tehan, welcome to the Country Hour.

DAN TEHAN: Pleasure to be with you, Warwick.

WARWICK LONG: The details of the UK Free Trade Agreement being announced today. What's in it for Australian farmers?

DAN TEHAN: Well, there's a lot in it for Australian farmers. This is the most comprehensive Free Trade Agreement we've done outside of the one we have with New Zealand. So for our beef producers immediately, 35,000 tonnes duty free of beef can go into the UK market.

25,000 tonnes of sheep meat can immediately get into the UK for our sugar growers. It's 80,000 tonnes for our dairy farmers. They also get access to the market for our rice growers. They get access to the UK market. So, the most comprehensive Free Trade Agreement we've done since the one we did with New Zealand. I think it was nearly 40 years ago. So this is an historic moment. A lot of farmers will remember when we got shut out of the UK market in 1975, when Britain turned to the EU. This agreement rights that wrong.

WARWICK LONG: You mentioned the quota limits on things like beef and lamb. For dairy and rice, are they quota limits there, or do they just have access now?

DAN TEHAN: There is quota limits there, which grow over time. So they get access as well, duty free access immediately. And so they win as well. For dairy, the only part of the dairy industry where there is a phasing, is when it comes to cheese. So cheese producers in Australia and in the UK, that duty free access comes down over five years before we go to free trade.

WARWICK LONG: You mentioned that Australia remembers being shunned by the UK when it turned towards the EU in the 70s. Back then, the UK was our major trading partner where a lot of Australia's produce went. Under this deal, we won't go back to those halcyon in days, will we?

DAN TEHAN: Look, one of the incredible things about Australian farmers is their resilience and their ability to find other markets because of the outstanding produce that they have. So we've now opened up markets right throughout the Indo-Pacific, so it's hard to see that being replicated, but it diversifies our trade. I think what we'll be able to do is get very high quality produce into the UK and get premium for it. And it's another option available for us and who knows how global trade cycles will work. But this is significant in giving us another substantial option when it comes to our trade.

WARWICK LONG: What does it mean to our wine industry particularly after it lost access to the China market?

DAN TEHAN: $45 million worth of duties immediately come off our wine that we export to the UK, so they get a substantial benefit immediately from it. The UK is now our largest export of wine. It takes more wine now by volume and value than any other country. So I can only see our wine exports in the UK continuing to expand even further. And it's great for the wine industry because it's been a tough time for them since we had that trade dispute with China, which ultimately is going to play out at the WTO.

WARWICK LONG: How long does the quota period apply to these Australian agricultural products?

DAN TEHAN: It varies, but the longest that we have. The quota periods is for beef and sheep meat, where it's ten years before we go to free trade, which is quite a significant outcome for us and puts this up, I think with New Zealand as the best FTA we've ever negotiated.

WARWICK LONG: Speaking of New Zealand, I know they've already got a large foot in the land market there and for some of their other agricultural products, do you worry that they could sign a better FTA deal to sort of sneak in before the Australian quota limits end?

DAN TEHAN: Well, they've got an agreement in principle with the UK, but we are ahead of them by a few months. And so we want to push on, get the agreement through the Parliament and get it going because competition is stiff in international trading markets and the New Zealanders have been watching very closely what we're doing. I think they'll have trouble beating what we've been able to achieve. They might be able to match it.

WARWICK LONG: So you're confident you're the better negotiator?

DAN TEHAN: Well, we'll always wait and see, but can I tell you this, this disagreement has been hard fought, but I think we've got a fantastic outcome and it will benefit both countries.

WARWICK LONG: Just quickly, Dan Tehan, before we let you go. Obviously we're focused on the agricultural produce, but is the change to visas and the movement of humans between the two countries as well. What will that mean to either the agricultural workforce or the movement of Australians and UK citizens as well?

DAN TEHAN: So one of the great things which came out of the negotiations for this agreement was the Ag Visa. We first floated a specific Ag Visa in this agreement and now we're pushing on to do that across the board and we've got great outcomes for young people. So anyone under the age of 35 in Australia or in Britain, can now go into each country and work for up to three years. So this is a fantastic outcome for young Australians and young Brits. We're going to see greater mobility in all sectors between the two countries. So, this is just another part of it that shows how deep the relationship is, because my view was given the closeness we should be doing everything we can to bring our people closer to, closer together and make sure that exchange of people could take place seamlessly. And we've been able to achieve that in this agreement.

WARWICK LONG: Minister, thanks for your time today.

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