Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News Afternoon Agenda

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Trade with China, Hamas-Israel Conflict.

Kieran Gilbert, host: Another positive step in trade relations with China could be made as soon as this month. Sky News revealed earlier via Trudy McIntosh that sanctions on wine could be relaxed ahead of the Prime Minister's promised visit to China in November. The story was broken, as I say, by Trudy. Joining me now live in the studio is the Trade Minister, Don Farrell. Minister, thanks for your time. So, is it your expectation that there will be some movement on the wine tariffs within weeks?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Look, I'd love to be able to report that to you, Kieran, but we're continuing to do what we've done over the last 18 months, and that is to stabilise our relationship with China, try and get back to sensible discussions with our Chinese counterpart, and in that process, raise all of the issues outstanding. Not just trade issues, there are issues of human rights, and of course, you saw the wonderful news last week that Cheng Lei was returned to her family in Melbourne.

Bit by bit, we've been getting the trade disputes resolved. The most recent one was hay. I continue to press the Chinese Government to remove the tariffs on Australian wine – 220% tariffs on Australian wine – get Australian lobsters back onto the kitchen tables of Chinese consumers and resolve the issues for those two or three Australian abattoirs who've not been able to get their meat back into China. And that's what I will continue to do.

Kieran Gilbert: Will those be resolved before the Prime Minister's visit?

Minister for Trade: Well, we're asking -

Kieran Gilbert: That's your hope?

Minister for Trade: We're asking the Chinese Government to review all of those issues. Now, some of them are tariff-related issues, and some of them have other biosecurity issues around them. But we're asking for all of the trade impediments, don't forget, when we came to government, we had something like $20 billion worth of trade impediments. We've now reduced that to about $2 billion. Still too much. Still too much. I accept that and I accept that there's more work to be done, and my job is to try and resolve all of those outstanding issues as quickly as we can.

Kieran Gilbert: Under the WTO dispute resolution framework, a report before it's made public, I think it's three weeks prior to it being made public, is given to those nations involved in the resolution process. So, is that what we're seeing here? Is that why there's an expectation there'll be some compromise from China, because the report has been given to the parties, including Australia?

Minister for Trade: We don't comment on World Trade Organisation dispute reports. But what I can say is this; the way in which we resolved the barley dispute was that we indicated to the Chinese Government that even though we believe we would win that case before the World Trade Organisation, we were prepared to suspend our application if they fast tracked a review of the barley tariffs. They did that and within a relatively short space of time, they lifted the 80.5% tariff on Australian barley.

Kieran Gilbert: So, we might see a similar thing here.

Minister for Trade: Well, I'm prepared to make that same offer to the Chinese Government that we will suspend our World Trade Organisation application if they fast-track the review of the tariffs on Australian wine. I think that's a sensible way to go. It means that we're not in disputation, it means that we're using the Chinese processes which we know can deliver an outcome for Australian producers, and I'd much prefer to see that course of action than disputation.

Kieran Gilbert: Yeah, well, let's hope it has the same outcome as the barley, now that you've made that offer to the Chinese on the wine front. And you're going to continue your own wine diplomacy meeting with the Ambassador next week, apparently, with your traditional wine diplomacy involved?

Minister for Trade: Part of my job is to rebuild relations in lots of areas. They've been damaged. This week already, I've had dinner with the Japanese Ambassador, and this morning I had breakfast with the British High Commissioner and Lord Ian Botham, to talk about trade issues. He's back here. It is a custom in Australia, Kieran, and I'm sure you know this, if you get invited to somebody's house, you bring a bottle of wine. And I've been fortunate enough to be invited by the Chinese Ambassador to his residence next week, and I will be bringing a bottle of wine.

Kieran Gilbert: Some of your own vineyard. I think Ian Botham probably would have liked that as well. He's a fan of a good red as well.

Minister for Trade: Well, he has his own wine, of course, but interestingly, that wine is made by Geoff Merrill in South Australia. So –

Kieran Gilbert: Your backyard.

Minister for Trade: My backyard.

Kieran Gilbert: I'd love to talk about wine all afternoon, but we're going to have - some other, obviously, big news around and just on a very serious matter to finish our conversation. I know you've got to go, but the Greens are moving a motion, Nick McKim in the Senate this afternoon, that the Senate oppose Israel's invasion of Gaza. What do you make of the Greens intervention on this?

Minister for Trade: Look, the Labor Party and the Coalition came up with a sensible resolution in respect of this issue. They condemned the attack by Hamas on innocent civilians in southern Israel, as we should, because as more and more evidence comes out of what happened there, they were just terrible, terrible events. We don't want to see the loss of any innocent lives in the Middle East. The Foreign Minister Wong has been very carefully working through all of these issues to ensure that we make it very clear that we condemn the actions of Hamas.

Kieran Gilbert: But, Nick McKim, won't get your support.

Minister for Trade: No, Nick won't, and look, I think it's disappointing, to be perfectly honest. There is a general view in the community about how we should approach these terrible sets of circumstances, and I don't think the Greens are in tune with the Australian people at all on this issue.

Kieran Gilbert: I know you've got to go. I appreciate your time. Talk to you soon.

Minister for Trade: Thanks, Kieran.

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