ABC Landline with Kath Sullivan

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia’s Trade Relationship with China, Trade Diversification, Free Trade Agreements.

Kath Sullivan, host: I'm Kath Sullivan, Australia's Trade Minister will travel to China at the invitation of its Commerce Minister. The Ministers have spoken for the first time since Beijing imposed sanctions, costing Australian exporters billions of dollars in lost trade. Earlier, I spoke with Senator Farrell and began by asking him if Australia's trading relationship with China is now fixed.

Minister for Trade: We made a lot of progress last year when the Prime Minister met the President of China, and our Foreign Minister and the Chinese Foreign Ministers met. Of course, this week I met with my counterpart, Minister Wang. We've started the thaw in the relationship, as they would describe it. I'm optimistic that progress is going to be made in respect of all of the issues that are now standing between us.

Kath Sullivan: Can we expect the trade ever to resume and to be what it was?

Minister for Trade: Look, there's no reason why that can't happen, but of course, I think one of the lessons of the China experience is that we need to diversify our trading relationship. That's why we've entered into new agreements with India, that's why we've entered into new agreements with the United Kingdom and that's why we're deep in discussions with the European Union.

Kath Sullivan: We've seen a shipment of Australian coal arrive in China, the first in years. When do you expect Australian lobsters might arrive there?

Minister for Trade: We've had some good news in that regard. For the first time in quite a few years, an Australian lobster company submitted an application for import of lobsters into China and the application was not rejected. So, again, I see that as a positive sign in the relationship.

Kath Sullivan: But you won't put a timeline on that one?

Minister for Trade: No. Look, these problems didn't occur overnight and, unfortunately, they're not going to be solved overnight. My job is to make as much progress on as many fronts, to try and get as many of these trade impediments resolved.

Kath Sullivan: Will Australia walk away from the complaints it's made to the World Trade Organization about China's tariffs on barley and wine?

Minister for Trade: These are two important cases. We believe we've got a very strong case, both in respect to wine and in respect to barley. We're not going to withdraw those applications. But right from the day I got this job eight months ago, I said we would much prefer to resolve all of our outstanding trade disputes by discussion and dialogue, and that's the message I gave to my counterpart this week. We would much prefer to resolve these issues by discussion and dialogue.

Kath Sullivan: Over the summer, the Agriculture Minister, Murray Watt, travelled to Europe to spruik the credentials, the sustainability credentials of Australian farmers. Are you concerned about their reputation overseas? And should producers here expect tough green requirements, things like chemical use and on land clearing as part of a trade deal with the EU?

Minister for Trade: Look, I don't believe any of those issues will be impediments to us reaching an agreement with the European Union. We've got about 50 negotiators this week locked up in the DFAT offices, and I'm confident that we're making progress there, and there'll be a very satisfactory outcome for Australian farmers.

Kath Sullivan: Minister, thanks so much for your time today.

Minister for Trade: Nice talking with you.


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