Doorstop, Beijing

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: 16th Joint Ministerial Economic Commission, Australia-China trade relationship, Chinese investment in Australia, Chinese joining CPTPP.

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: All right, thank you very much for coming along this late in the evening in Beijing. I've just finished our final meeting with my trade counterpart here in Beijing. We had a very warm and constructive and I have to say, candid meeting at which we both raised issues of concerns to our respective countries. I came here to create a pathway to normalise our trade and economic relationship with China. I raised with Minister Wang each of the remaining impediments that need to be resolved in order to achieve this pathway. I'm very pleased to confirm that we agreed to step up dialogue under our Free Trade Agreement and other platforms to resolve our outstanding issues. We also discussed the World Trade Organisation disputes, and I was very pleased to get reassurance, that our agreement reached recently on barley is on track. I also reiterated that we expect a similar process to be followed with the WTO dispute in respect to Australian wine. I also took the opportunity to raise the consular cases of Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun with the Minister.

I invited Minister Wang to visit Australia and I'm very pleased to say that he has accepted my invitation so that we can continue to build on the positive momentum of our trade relationships, and our discussions today. We will also see one another in a couple of weeks at the APEC meeting in Detroit. Thank you very much and fire away with your questions.

Journalist: So what's the situation with the Chinese Foreign Minister? Is he visiting Australia? And if so, will he visit your vineyard in South Australia?

Minister for Trade: The Foreign Minister?

Journalist: The Chinese Foreign Minister.

Minister for Trade: Look, I think it would be unlikely for him to visit my vineyard, but, of course, if he comes to Australia and he'd be most welcome to come to Adelaide. I was reporting on comments in a Chinese newspaper this morning. Discussions would continue about a time and a place for any such visit.

Journalist: What's DFAT's advice, though, I mean the invitation has obviously been extended, DFAT must know whether he's coming or not. What is the situation?

Minister for Trade: Discussions are underway about a time and a place when the Chinese Foreign Minister would come to Australia.

Journalist: Minister, at the start of the trip, the end of the year was discussed as a possible time frame for the pathway that you described. Is that reflected in your talks with your counterpart?

Minister for Trade: They were very positive discussions, as I said. A whole lot of movement has started already. We've seen coal come back into China, we've seen copper concentrates come back into China, we've seen cotton come back into China. We've got a pathway for resolving the WTO barley dispute, and we've indicated to the Chinese that we see that as a process for delivering on the issue of wine. I'm confident that as a result of our face-to-face meetings - and remember this is the first face-to-face meeting in more than four years between an Australian Trade Minister and a Chinese Trade Minister - that we are well on the way to resolving all of our outstanding impediments.

Journalist: Minister did you discuss the CPTPP?

Minister for Trade: Yes, we did. We discussed that. The Chinese Minister indicated that they would like to be considered for accession to the CPTPP. I indicated that we still hadn't finally resolved the issue of the United Kingdom's accession. We do believe that that's imminent, but it still hasn't been finally resolved. Of course, accession to that agreement requires the consent of all the parties.

Journalist: Was there any request from the Chinese side on what they expect Australia to give in return for the trade sanctions of barley and the trade sanctions of wine and as you mentioned, coal. Specifically, the Chinese have been very clear that they want more investment access to Australia. The Deputy Prime Minister said that they were considering restrictions on investments into, say, lithium and nickel and other critical minerals. Did you have discussions about the availability of those sectors for Chinese investment?

Minister for Trade: Yes, the Chinese Minister raised a range of issues in relation to investment. I made the point in the last financial year, over 273 investment decisions had been approved for Chinese companies in Australia totalling $4.8 billion. In addition to that, there were over 2000 real estate investments of Chinese companies or individuals in Australia. So, the fact of the matter is there are many Chinese investments successfully being approved in Australia. Like all countries, we reserve the right to make strategic decisions about foreign investment, particularly where it involves state owned companies. So, yes, the Minister raised those issues, and I countered with an explanation of Australia's policy in these areas.

Journalist: Hi, Joe Cash from Reuters. For some years now, commentators have commented that China uses punitive trade measures to punish countries such as Australia. But do you think that the significant progress that Australia has made in its negotiations with China recently renders this tactic of trying to intimidate through the use of trade and economic pressure redundant?

Minister for Trade: We made the decision on coming to government twelve months ago that we wanted to stabilise our relationship with the Chinese government, to get our relationship back on track, and to lift all of these trade impediments. That process started last year, of course, with the meeting between the Chinese President and the Australian Prime Minister. It advanced further just before Christmas, when Foreign Minister Wong came to China. This is just another step in the road of stabilising that relationship, removing all of the trade impediments, and getting us back to a situation where there is free trade between Australian products and China. At the end of the day, I went into a supermarket today and I have to say, was pleasantly surprised at the number of Australian products that were being sold in Chinese supermarkets. We think there's an opportunity to sell more into the Chinese market. That's my job to improve those sales, to get those sales moving again. I'm very confident that as a result of this face-to-face discussion today, that we are well on track to getting a stable, normal relationship with China.

Journalist: What exactly are you going home with, apart from some goodwill? You say that you've agreed to continue the work on barley and Australia's has hopes in relation to wine, but have you secured any concessions during this visit?

Minister for Trade: What we came here to do was, firstly, have a first face-to-face meeting. Remember this, the Chinese Minister had never met an Australian Trade Minister and I had never met a Chinese Trade Minister. So, it was the first step along the way of a pathway of stabilising the relationship. Yes, you're right, there was a lot of goodwill expressed on both sides, but more work needs to be done. I always thought that we would have to continue to persist and to persevere to get these trade impediments removed. The trade impediments didn't occur overnight and they're not going to be resolved overnight. My job is to keep the process going, to keep the pressure on, to resolve it. In respect of the barley, well, they affirmed today that the process is on track, so that was a very positive move. And, of course, we've indicated that we see that process as being the process for resolving the wine dispute. What we've got is a set of mechanisms through our Free Trade Agreement to keep the discussions going, to get this relationship back to where it ought to be, so that it's to the benefit of Australian food and wine producers, and to the benefit of consumers in China who want to buy Australian products.

Journalist: Can I Just follow up one more question?

Minister for Trade: Sure.

Journalist: I will be very quick. You mentioned a number of things that Australia will possibly get out of this relationship, Australian producers. What is China getting out of improving relations with Australia?

Minister for Trade: Look, they've raised all of the issues in respect of investments. There were a number of issues that they raised in respect to, for instance, importing electric cars into Australia. There's been some impediments in respect of access to their electric cars because of some biosecurity issues. We have indicated that we will send some Australian agricultural officials to have some discussions with the Chinese about that. So, yes, they raised issues and we've responded where we can. Thanks very much. Have a safe trip back to Australia.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: 02 6277 7420
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555