ABC Afternoon Briefing, with Greg Jennett

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement, live cattle to Indonesia, trade with China.

Greg Jennett, host: Don Farrell, always good to have you on the program. Welcome back. You're still working away at the EU Trade Deal. I'm wondering if the political appetite by your measure is waning in this country. I ask that because prominent West Australian Liberal Senator, who would generally be regarded as a free trader, Slade Brockman, has written an opinion piece which is in essence a critique of European conduct. Do you share some of his criticisms? Is it worth pursuing anymore?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Look, it's hard work, Greg, I have to admit that, and I was disappointed that in our recent negotiations we weren't yet able to get to the point where we could say we had a satisfactory agreement. But we haven't given up and based on the last set of negotiations, we intend, hopefully, to have another meeting in the next few weeks where we intend to make further progress. If it was easy to get an agreement with the European Union, then somebody would have done it already. The fact that we haven't been able to get an agreement is just an indication that you've got to persist, and you've got to persevere.

Greg Jennett: Well, you do. Geographical indicators - I think we've spoken on this program, it's been well covered - but other elements identified again by Slade Brockman, of all people, carbon tariffs, he says, are designed to protect European businesses from foreign competition. Is that your assessment of that measure?

Minister for Trade: Look, they have certainly raised issues in relation to climate change. I don't believe any of those issues will be obstacles to reaching an agreement. Unlike the former government, we've got progressive views in respect of the issues around climate change, and I think we can resolve those issues.

What's going to be particularly important to the Europeans, and I think one of the advantages to us in these negotiations, is the amount of critical minerals that Australia has. If we can reach an agreement, then of course it's much easier for the Europeans to access our critical minerals.

Greg Jennett: This is your leverage, and what's the converse of that? If there is no agreement, what do you say about sale of those critical minerals?

Minister for Trade: We won't not sell them, if they want to buy them. But when you've got a Free Trade Agreement, it's a lot easier to get access to our markets. And of course, we're once again the lucky country, we've got generally either the largest or the second largest reserves of critical minerals anywhere in the world. So, we've got a lot of critical minerals. What we don't always have is the investment capability to extract those critical minerals, and of course we'd be looking to the Europeans to work with them to do that, and that's going to be a lot easier if we've got a free trade agreement with them.

Greg Jennett: Of course, and so many countries are knocking and showing interest in those critical minerals. What about the disposition of individual member states? I refer specifically to Germany. Does Australia risk some sort of backlash? Or even that it simply runs dead on an EU trade deal due to disappointment from losing a lucrative defence contract only last week?

Minister for Trade: We made a commercial decision based on the product that we thought was best suited for the Australian Defence Force. I don't think individual decisions about individual contracts will impact our relationship with Germany. I was in Germany towards the end of last year, and was looking at some of the electrolysers that we're going to use to extract hydrogen from seawater. I think the Europeans can expect a lot of contracts from Australia in respect of those sorts of developments. So look, I guess the Europeans, and particularly the Germans, would have been disappointed, but there's a whole host of areas where we're going to be working very closely with Germany to use some of their technology.

Greg Jennett: Okay, let's bring it a little closer to home. Live cattle trade with Indonesia. Australia has ostensibly what is a quarantine dispute over lumpy skin disease detection in cattle after shipment. But I'm wondering if there's a trade element to this dispute. The head of Indonesia's Agricultural Quarantine, Bambang is his name, questions whether Australia is, in fact, LSD free. “This is nothing but to calm the livestock business there in Australia, we don't know yet,” he says. Can you set the Indonesians at risk that Australia is LSD free, and that there's not some trade element to this standoff?

Minister for Trade: Look, I'd be very surprised if there's a trade element to it, other than, of course, that it does impact on our ability to sell cattle into the Indonesian market at the moment. I believe we're disease free. One of the great features of Australia being an island is that we've been able to have very good biosecurity rules. Minister Watt has been doing a terrific job in ensuring that we are disease free. There's a process to go on. I want to see that process quickly resolved, but I would be very confident that Australian beef, in particular, is disease free.

Greg Jennett: Okay, finally, clock is ticking on the bilateral arrangement that Australia entered into with China to try to settle the barley trade tariff dispute. In fact, that clock runs out towards the end of next week. What is happening now and what will happen then?

Minister for Trade: Well, we're waiting, I guess, with bated breath, Greg, for the decision. As you know, we suspended our World Trade Organization dispute on the basis that the Chinese would do a quick review of their tariff regime in respect of barley. As you say, that runs out next week. So, I'm hopeful that within the next few days we'll get a positive decision by the Chinese.

Greg Jennett: What gives you that hope?

Minister for Trade: We've gone to a lot of trouble to stabilise our relationship with China over the last 15 months. I've had three or four meetings now with my Chinese equivalent. We've built up a good rapport, a good understanding, and a level of trust. I'm hopeful that the goodwill we have shown by suspending our World Trade Organization dispute, will result in a positive response from the Chinese.

Greg Jennett: Okay, and if it does not, is it automatic that you go back to Geneva and recommence that dispute?

Minister for Trade: Well, it's automatic in the sense that we have made it very clear to the Chinese that if we don't get a satisfactory outcome, then we will be resuming our application and we will be asking the World Trade Organization to make a final determination on the issue, which I think will obviously be in our favour.

Greg Jennett: All right. Take it as a given, Don Farrell, that we'll be watching that countdown towards, I think it's Friday of next week, and we'll await developments with you. Thanks again for joining us.

Minister for Trade: Thanks Greg.

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