Interview with Lucy Polkinghorne, Sky News Regional

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-China trade relations, trade diversification, $10 million boost for caravan parks.

Lucy Polkinghorne, host: Australia and China's relationship is on the mend following a virtual meeting between Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell and China's Minister of Commerce, Wang Wentao last week. There are now reports China is preparing to ease restrictions on Australian beef and timber, offering relief for hundreds of exporters. For more, I'm joined by the Minister, Don Farrell. Minister, thank you so much for your time this morning. Now, this does sound promising, and no exports of Australian timber logs have taken place to China in more than two years, affecting about $600 million in trade. So, is China close to winding back restrictions on timber and also beef?

Minister for Trade: Lucy, I hope so. It was a warm and friendly discussion with my Chinese counterpart this time last week. In fact, he made the comment that the freeze is over, and we are moving to a warm spring. I took that as a very positive sign that we're making the first steps towards stabilising our relationship with China, getting it back to an even keel. As a result, all of those trade impediments that we've encountered over the last two or three years, I'm hopeful that we can put them behind us, and bit by bit, we can restore all of those trading arrangements to what they were prior to the pandemic.

Lucy Polkinghorne: And speaking of bit by bit, there are expectations China will start importing Australian lobster again in coming months, while Australian coal miners are reportedly receiving inquiries from Chinese buyers wanting to strike new supply agreements this year. What more can you tell us?

Minister for Trade: In respect of coal, a shipment of coal arrived at a Chinese port last week and to the best of my knowledge, it was waved through, there were no difficulties offloading that coal. In respect of lobster, for the first time, Australian companies have applied for import licences into China and those licences have not been rejected. So, on both of those fronts, that's good news. Some of my friends in the wine industry have told me that they're already getting indications that purchases may be on the way. And there's a good story to come, I think, in respect of meat, and in respect of dairy. So, look, on a range of products where we have suffered those trade impediments over the last couple of years, there appears to be good news.

Lucy Polkinghorne: Absolutely. Now, eight Australian meatworks are still on China's ban list. Speaking on that, are you feeling confident further talks might see these bands also lifted?

Minister for Trade: We're not getting ahead of ourselves here. These impediments took a long time to implement and they're going to take some time to correct. What we're doing as a government, is two things: we're trying to stabilise that relationship with China, get it back onto an even keel so that we can have sensible discussions - both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have been working very hard to stabilise this relationship.

The second part of our strategy, of course, is to diversify our trading arrangements. That's why we've entered into a new free trade agreement with India, and the Prime Minister and I are going to India next month to try and boost trade there. We've got a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom that's going to be important to boost our exports into the United Kingdom. And most significantly, last week, we had officials from the European Union in Canberra discussing and negotiating the new free trade agreement with the European Union. That's an area with 450 million people and, of course, trillions of dollars worth of trade. We want to stabilise our relationship with China and we want to get our exports back into China. We want to give the Chinese consumer the advantages that we know you get from Australian food and wine, but we need to have a strategy as well to diversify into the future. So, that's a two-pronged strategy that the Albanese Government is adopting at the moment.

Lucy Polkinghorne: And certainly, a positive sign, you have been invited to Beijing as well, so, no doubt that happening soon, too. Now, just quickly, back on home soil, Aussie caravan parks have received a welcomed $10 million boost, which is great news. So, which regions will receive a slice of these funds?

Minister for Trade: The caravan industry is a very important part of our tourist experience. Almost $30 billion worth of expenditure by Australians and overseas tourists in that industry. Yesterday, I announced that 111 caravan parks around the country would share in that $10 million worth of investment. Right across the country, and it's going to be particularly significant in rural and regional Australia, because, of course, that's where most of our caravan parks are. I think this investment will just add to the experience that Australians get from visiting the regions, getting an opportunity to get out of the cities, and, of course, have that wonderful experience that you get from visiting rural and regional Australia.

Lucy Polkinghorne: Yeah, absolutely. Well, Minister, thank you very much for your time this morning. We do appreciate it.

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