ABC Radio National Drive with Jonathan Green
Jonathan Green, Host: Senator Don Farrell is the Trade Minister. Minister, welcome.
Don Farrell, Minister for Trade: Thanks Jonathan.
Jonathan Green: Your Government's 43 per cent emissions reduction by 2030, that's an ambitious target. Is it ambitious enough to win the respect of EU members and help you restart these negotiations?
Minister for Trade: Look, I think it will be Jonathan. I recently met with the French Trade Minister, our equivalent from France, and he certainly didn't indicate that our 43 per cent was going to be any problem at all. It was also very pleasing to see that having now resolved the financial aspects of the submarine deal with France, that wasn't an obstacle either.
Of course, we've seen in the last couple of days the Prime Minister met with the Spanish President in order to talk about getting things moving. He's meeting with President Macron. I think both of those things are very positive signs.
The EU Commission, we've met with them in the last 24 hours, the Prime Minister met with them - again a very positive indication.
About two weeks ago I met with 14 or 15 members of the European Union Parliamentary Delegation. These are some of the people who are going to be making the decision on whether our proposed agreement is accepted or rejected by Europe. There was almost an audible sigh of relief that there'd been a change of government in Australia and that we had these views about climate change which were so different from the previous government.
So I think all the indications are sort of heading in the right direction. I mean there's still a lot of hard negotiations to be done but I'm pretty confident that the Prime Minister's request that we get this off and running by early next year is going to be met.
Jonathan Green: And he's wanting the next round of talks to happen before October. It is a pretty tight deadline.
Minister for Trade: Look, I think it's fair to say that things had been progressing sort of reasonably well until the submarine deal was reneged on. Once that occurred then I think there was quite a deliberate position by the Europeans to slow down negotiations.
Jonathan Green: Europeans or just France? Was France being a bit obstructive?
Minister for Trade: Look I think France are obviously very influential, you know, one of the big countries, one of the original members of the European Union. Obviously they had a view about Australia. We think that we've done some good work there in restoring our relationship with France and I'm pretty confident now that it should be full speed ahead. The official date for the next set of negotiations is 17 October. As the Prime Minister said, if we can get these things going earlier than that then that would be terrific.
Jonathan Green: Why now I wonder with this free trade agreement? And I mean it's going to be a tense negotiation. The EU has its own priorities, including its famed list of 400 products that they want to protect the names of. So no more Australian fetta or Prosecco. I mean that sounds perhaps trivial, but this is a difficult negotiation.
Minister for Trade: Every free trade agreement starts out as a difficult negotiation but that's the skill, that's what you have to do in these times. You've got to reach a compromise - the Europeans obviously want a range of things, and we want a range of things. We'll sit down, we'll genuinely negotiate, hopefully we'll quickly negotiate, and we'll reach agreement.
One of the problems we've had in the past I think with the previous government is they really put all their eggs in the one basket, the China basket, and when problems emerged there we didn't have a ready alternative.
So the reason we need these free trade agreements - we've got one with England now and we've got one with India - the reason we need them is we've got to have some alternative places to sell our products when problems emerge like they've done with China.
Jonathan Green: Sure. I mean the benefits though can often be elusive. I mean you've mentioned China. We do of course have a free trade agreement with China and it settled in 2015. I mean that's not necessarily working out all that well for us.
Minister for Trade: That's a fair point Jonathan. But I think it's worth noting that China is our largest trading partner. We sold almost $300 billion worth of goods to China. Our problem is that they've been selectively picking on particular products, like wine, like barley, like meat, like crayfish, and we've lost $20 billion worth of sales just in those four products alone. So we have to have some alternatives. That's the idea here.
Look, free trade agreements do work. We're a successful trading nation. That's how we've, grown our prosperity in this country and it's how we'll grow our prosperity into the future.
Jonathan Green: Which is why, Don Farrell, it's important perhaps that we reinvigorate our relationship with China. You say your invitation to meet your counterpart is open despite that Minister not meeting at the WTO where you were just recently. Is there an indication from the Chinese Minister's office that they are open to that meeting?
Minister for Trade: I put out the olive branch to China. I'd like to see a situation where we can resolve all of our trading disputes with China without having to take action at the World Trade Organization. As you know we've got a couple of disputes there.
I'd like to have the opportunity to meet with our Chinese counterpart and see if we can sort out some of these problems that have arisen in the past.
The Minister wasn't there for the whole of the conference, I think he might have only been there for 24 hours and it just wasn't possible in that time to catch up. But I've continued to hold out the olive branch, I've continued to say, "Look, we'll meet with you, and we'll try and sort these problems out.” There's been no indication from the Chinese that at some future point in time that that won't happen.
Jonathan Green: Do we need to shift our approach to China, which has been somewhat belligerent in recent times? Under Prime Minister Bob Hawke, for example, Australia managed to separate trade and foreign relations and that former Prime Minister, he said that, that separation - saying this in 2014 - Australia should not let concern about China's human rights records stand in the way of the trade relationship. Is that a position that we should now adopt?
Minister for Trade: We've made it very clear that we have a very strong position on the issue of human rights, whether it be China or any other country that's seeking to breach normal rules as they relate to human rights. We're not going to sacrifice our national interests in the interests of trade, but we
Jonathan Green: Surely trade is very much in our national interests
Minister for Trade: Look, there's a range of interests here. There's national security, there's issues as we've just discussed in relation to human rights. We need to continue to very strongly express our concerns to the Chinese Government about some of the things that they're doing, including what they're doing to us in respect of increasing tariffs on the products that we previously sold into China.
We need to keep doing that, we need to keep making it very clear that we've got a set of principles that we abide by, but at the same time we don't have to be as bellicose as the previous government was. I think there's a way to separate those two issues so that we can have meaningful discussions with the Chinese on all of those trade issues which we, you know, need to have sensible, longterm arrangements with the Chinese.
Jonathan Green: Senator, thanks for your time.
Minister for Trade: Thanks Jonathan.
Jonathan Green: Senator Don Farrell.
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