Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News
Kieran Gilbert: As we mentioned just a moment ago with Andrew Clennell, the Trade Minister, Don Farrell, has returned from his trip to Beijing. He's the third Australian Minister to visit China in the past six months. Now back home, Don Farrell joined me a short time ago where we began by discussing the warm reception he received on the ground.
Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: It was a very welcoming visit, very positive, and we hit it off pretty well, I think you'd say. He, to my surprise, organised a private visit to the Forbidden City. We didn't know that was coming and of course, that's a very great privilege to have done that. We had two formal meetings and both of them were very warm and friendly.
Kieran Gilbert: Well, that sort of reflects where I guess the Chinese Communist Party is at in terms of wanting to re-engage, if he's allowed to take that approach. Is that fair to say?
Minister for Trade: Yes. I've taken it as a very positive sign. Our wish over the last twelve months was to stabilise our relationship with China, and to get all of these trade impediments that have damaged our relationship removed. To get us back to that stable situation where we can sell our terrific food and wine into China, and Chinese consumers have the benefit of our terrific products. What actually pleasantly surprised me, was the level of Australian products in Chinese supermarkets in Beijing, and the fact that all of the messages from the business people that I caught up with, was that Chinese people are wanting more and more of our products. So, I think it's a very good sign.
Kieran Gilbert: So even though there was that sort of freeze in relations, it didn't affect the Chinese people's goodwill?
Minister for Trade: No.
Kieran Gilbert: Towards Australia?
Minister for Trade: I went to a supermarket and I was blown away by just how many Australian products were actually on sale in the supermarket. Dairy products, beer, some of the finest beers - Cooper's Beer from South Australia was on the shelves - and just about everywhere you looked there was an Australian product. The message that I got from the business people up there was that there's an even greater demand for our products. Apparently, cosmetics are going to be the next big thing. Australian cosmetics.
Kieran Gilbert: Well, so there wasn't any direct result or removal of tariffs. My colleague Ben Packham, from The Australian travelled with you on the trip. He wrote that you wanted to use the visit to form a close working relationship with Minister Wang, who was keen to reciprocate. Is that fair to say that that was the number one goal on the trip and then other things will come from that?
Minister for Trade: Yeah, look, the important thing I think to remember Kieran, is that there hasn't been a meeting with an Australian Trade Minister for more than four years. Minister Wang has never met an Australian Trade Minister. We've now had two meetings in the last few months. One a virtual, and it's interesting, I thought he was about my height. I discovered he's about a foot taller than me, because that's the difference you get between a zoom meeting and a physical meeting. So, establishing that rapport, I think, is important in resolving these issues. We did get an outcome in the sense that we've both agreed that we'll use our Free Trade Agreement as the mechanism for resolving these current disputes. There is a process forward and that was really the thing I was hoping to get, so that we could see that there was a way through all of the issues that were still outstanding.
Kieran Gilbert: So, you got the personal side and the process. The Opposition - I had the Shadow Treasurer on my program on Sunday. He said there's been a lot of talk from Labor, not a lot of outcomes. They want to see outcomes, the coalition. What do you say in response to Mr Taylor?
Minister for Trade: Well, it's pretty cheeky, isn't it, really? I mean, this is the mob, that their poor language resulted in all of these trade impediments, and now they're suddenly saying they want them resolved. Well, we are starting the process of resolving them. We've got coal back into the Chinese market, we've got Australian cotton back into the Chinese market, copper is back into the Chinese market. Within months, we're going to get a decision about the issue of barley, which I think will be a positive decision. Millions of dollars worth of trade there. That barley process is the one that we've said to the Chinese, that we want to use that to resolve the wine issue.
Kieran Gilbert: The Opposition would argue that it wasn't their language, that it was Chinese aggression that caused the drama. What do you say to that?
Minister for Trade: Let's put what's happened behind us. I'm looking to the future. I believe the Chinese Trade Minister is also looking to the future. We want these impediments behind us, and we want to stabilise the trading relationship so that Australian products, as quickly as possible, can get back into the Chinese market.
Kieran Gilbert: The Chinese Foreign Minister to also visit Australia this year, along with the Trade Minister. That sounds like another step towards potentially our Prime Minister paying a visit to Beijing later in the year to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries. Is that your expectation?
Minister for Trade: The Prime Minister's travel arrangements, of course, are privy to him. Interestingly enough, when I was there this month, it was 50 years since Jim Cairns had made the first visit of an Australian Trade Minister to China. So, obviously it's a propitious year to be there. I'm sure the Chinese would welcome any visit by an Australian Prime Minister.
Kieran Gilbert: And the Chinese counterpart, your counterpart, he's going to visit your vineyard in the Clare Valley of South Australia. I can't imagine him showing up with the wine tariffs still in place. I'd say they'd be gone by then, surely?
Minister for Trade: Well, let's hope so, and let's hope they're removed very quickly. I invited him to come to Adelaide. He'd previously been to Sydney and Melbourne. Of course. we've got the Foreign Minister down in Adelaide, we've got the Foreign Shadow Minister, and of course, Frances Adamson, who's the Governor, and had been formerly an Australian Ambassador to China. So, he's very welcome, and he didn't take any time at all to accept the invitation.
Kieran Gilbert: Trade Minister, Don Farrell. Thanks for your time. Talk to you soon.
- Minister's office: 02 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555