ABC RN Drive with Andy Park

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Lifting of Chinese tariffs on Australian barley, live cattle to Indonesia.

Andy Park, host: The Federal Trade Minister is Don Farrell. Minister, welcome to Drive.

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Nice to talk with you Andy.

Andy Park: When did you actually find out that the barley tariff had been lifted? And how far does this go to repairing Australia's relationship with China?

Minister for Trade: Look, we found out about two hours ago when the Chinese Government put on their website that they were lifting, as of tomorrow, the 80 per cent tariffs on Australian barley. This is obviously very good news for Australian barley producers, but it's also good news for Chinese consumers. They very much enjoyed Australian grains and in particular barley, and this gives them another opportunity to purchase Australian fine produce.

Andy Park: So, can we expect the Prime Minister to visit China before Christmas?

Minister for Trade: The Prime Minister's made it clear that he would like to accept the invitation of the Chinese Government to visit, and I'd be hopeful that he can find it in his schedule between now and the end of the year to make that visit to China.

Andy Park: How much of this decision do you think has to do with the war in Ukraine and Russia's blockade of food exports, particularly grain? Has that made it sort of impossible for China to maintain these tariff regimes?

Minister for Trade: Look, there will be a range of considerations which the Chinese Government will have taken into consideration in removing these tariffs. But I'd like to think that it's been the persistent and patient approach of the Albanese Government to stabilising our relationship with China, and an emphasis on removing all of these trade impediments.

It started with the Prime Minister's discussion with the Chinese President last year, followed up with a meeting between the Foreign Minister Penny Wong and her counterpart, and then I've now had three meetings with my counterpart. All of those meetings have contributed to us stabilising that relationship, and having an opportunity to resolve our outstanding issues. There's still more work to be done, there's still other products that we need to get back into the Chinese market like wine, like lobster, and some sections of the meat industry. So, the job's not finished yet, and we're going to continue to work on resolving all of those outstanding issues and stabilising our relationship.

Andy Park: Minister, if our relationship with China is now stabilising, as you put it, why is it that you and your Department finds out about the lifting of these tariffs by the Chinese Government updating their website? Shouldn't there have been more communication between the two?

Minister for Trade: Look, each country has its own system of dealing with these issues. We have our own processes of dealing with these issues. This is the particular way in which the Chinese Government dealt with this. Don't forget, it was our decision almost four months ago, to suspend our World Trade Organisation dispute with China which led them to an early reconsideration of the issue. So, this is how the process works in China. We're just delighted for Australian barley producers that they can now get their fantastic product back into the Chinese market.

Andy Park: I mean, barley trade is usually worth around $900 million a year, I believe? You'll correct me if I'm wrong.

Minister for Trade: That's about it.

Andy Park: How much has this hurt, this last three years? How much does it cost the Australian economy?

Minister for Trade: I don't have the exact figures on that at the moment Andy. Of course, barley was one of the products that successfully found other markets, albeit not at the same price that they were getting from the Chinese market. But look, at its peak, our sales were just under $1 billion a year. I'd like to see that trade resume into China, but one of the other policies of the Albanese Labor Government is to try and diversify our trading relationships.

You've seen that we've got a new free trade agreement with India, we've just started one with the United Kingdom and we're talking to the Europeans about a new free trade agreement. So, we just don't want to get back into the Chinese market. We want to spread the risk, if you like, and get our products, our very fine Australian barley and other produce, into a range of markets.

Andy Park: Can you give me an update on the WTO case about Australian wine? I mean, how close do you think you are to getting that case resolved?

Minister for Trade: Look, we believe we've got a very strong case, just as we had with barley, to get the World Trade Organisation to lift the very high tariffs on Australian wine. I'm hoping the template that we've used here, namely to suspend our case, and give the Chinese government a chance to reconsider the tariffs, will be the template that will work to ensure that fantastic Australian wine gets back on the tables of Chinese consumers.

Andy Park: Just finally, Minister, can you give me an update on the situation with our live cattle exports to Indonesia and their insistence that the cases of lumpy skin disease detected in our cattle originated on Australian shores? Is this likely to escalate?

Minister for Trade: I hope it doesn't escalate Andy. We don't believe that we have lumpy skin disease in Australia. We think our very fine beef is disease free. There is a process going on at the moment of a review of that, and I'm happy to wait for the outcome of that review.

Andy Park: Federal Trade Minister Don Farrell. Appreciate your time this afternoon.

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