ABC Afternoon briefing with Greg Jennett

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australian timber exports, Australia-China trade, CPTPP.

Greg Jennett, host: China’s decision to allow timber back into its market is a measurable improvement in trade ties. Don Farrell almost certainly had a hand in it through his travels to Beijing last week. After some domestic travel today, he’s landed at Adelaide Airport a few moments ago and he joins us live from the airport. Very much on the fly. Don Farrell, welcome back to the program, explain your role in the relaxation of controls on Australian timber.

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Look, a lot of people in Australia have put a lot of hard work into resolving this particular trade impediment, and of course that includes the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister. This was one of the topics that we discussed last Friday. I explained to the Chinese Trade Minister just how much damage this particular impediment was doing to Australian timber producers. I'm delighted to see that as a result of raising those issues, we've managed to get a breakthrough today. But, look, there's still an awful lot more work to do, Greg. There's still a range of other products that we want lifted impediments on. The next one, I think, to be dealt with will be the barley issue. I was assured when I was in China last week that their process of reviewing the barley tariffs was well underway and we should expect a decision in the next few weeks. And of course, we've still got the serious issues with wine and meat. I guess the other good news is that we've managed to get coal back into the market, we've managed to get cotton back into the market and we've managed to get copper back into the Chinese market.

Greg Jennett: They are all improvements, to be sure, and the Ambassador actually sounded fairly positive about barley today as well. But just on timber, Don Farrell, what is the process that you would expect to happen now? Are logs sitting in China at the moment unable to enter, or do they literally have to become new orders from Australia that get underway soon?

Minister for Trade: There'll be a combination, Greg, of processes. I would expect there would still be some at particular Chinese ports, but I think the bulk of those exports will come from new orders. What this process does is ensure that there'll be no impediments when our timber products get to Chinese ports. That's obviously a very, very good thing for timber producers in Australia. We've lost almost $2 billion worth of trade since these impediments were imposed and obviously this is very good news for timber exporters in Australia.

Greg Jennett: Yes. So, timber falls into that category where it wasn't locked out of China through higher tariffs, was it, but through quarantine, or what we call biosecurity restrictions imposed. In that sense, does it make it into a category that is easier to resolve than your others like barley, like wine? And might it all go well for seafood?

Minister for Trade: Look, I hope it does. There's already some positive signs for seafood. Of course, we produce the best crayfish in the world off Australia's coast. But the really important breakthrough that we had last week that perhaps hasn't had the attention it should, is that we've set up a process through our Free Trade Agreement with the Chinese Government for dealing with all of our outstanding trade impediments. And I think whether it be issues relating to tariffs or issues relating to biosecurity issues, we have now got a process that we can work through so that we can explain to our Chinese colleagues just what we think should happen to resolve all of these disputes, whether tariffs, whether biosecurity, or whether they as a result of something else.

Greg Jennett: Okay. Don, the Ambassador had a few other ideas on trade today. One is that on the CPTPP or Trans-Pacific Partnership, as it's generally known, he wants a high level working group set up between Australia and China to work through its possible entry into that group. Are you prepared to establish that?

Minister for Trade: Look, the CPTPP, as it's known, is currently considering an application by the United Kingdom to join. That process has gone a long way down the track but has not yet been finalised. When that is finalised, consideration will then turn to other applicants to join that trade agreement.

Greg Jennett: But are you prepared to facilitate it through bureaucratic processes that you have under your control bilaterally here in Canberra?

Minister for Trade: As I said, the process of the United Kingdom's accession is still being dealt with. When that process is completed, we'll be having discussions with the other members of that Free Trade Agreement as to what the next steps might be.

Greg Jennett: All right, now, also the matter of Cheng Lei, the detained journalist held for more than 1000 days. The Ambassador indicated, Don Farrell, that he personally is trying to facilitate more access by family and loved ones, and he's hoping for a resolution, to use his words as early as possible in this case. Is he an ally, in your assessment, able to make a difference in that case? You're well familiar with it, having raised it yourself?

Minister for Trade: I would hope so. As I've said once or twice before, it would have been terrible for Cheng Lei not to have been able to spend another Mother's Day with her family. We strongly pushed that issue and the issue of other Australians caught up in the Chinese judicial system. I certainly welcome the Ambassador's comments there. I know that the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister are keen for these issues to be resolved, and we'll continue to work with the Chinese Government to ensure that these people are released and brought back to Australia where they belong.

Greg Jennett: Well, what we conclude can conclude, Don Farrell, is that in some areas, if not in all, all, there are noticeable improvements in ties between Australia and Beijing at the moment. Thanks so much for joining us on a very busy afternoon for you there in Adelaide.

Minister for Trade: Thanks Greg.

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