Interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Radio National

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: IPEF and APEC Ministerial trade talks, Trade relations with China.

Patricia Karvelas, host: World leaders are gathering in the US this week for the APEC Summit, with trade talks high on the agenda. Trade Ministers are today discussing the new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework launched earlier this year that focuses on trade, supply chains, clean energy and anti-corruption. The talks are off the back of a meeting with China earlier this month and the government walking away altogether from a free trade agreement with the EU. Trade Minister Don Farrell joins me now from San Francisco.

Don Farrell, welcome.

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

Patricia Karvelas: You've just signed a supply chain agreement. What will it do?

Minister for Trade: Well, we've joined with 13 other regional countries and the United States to beef up the supply chains that exist between our countries. You might recall during COVID, Patricia, that there was a massive shortage of face masks and we couldn't get access to them. We didn't produce them in Australia. We couldn't get access from any of the other countries in our regions. What this will do will set up a system that will enable countries that have shortages, like face masks, to quickly get access to them from the other countries in the region. And of course, we've seen post the terrible war between Russia and Ukraine, that there's been a whole lot of delays to supply chain deliveries. We hope that all of those will be overcome by this new agreement. It's an agreement that was signed by all of the countries this morning, and I'll be coming back with it to implement it in coming weeks through our usual processes of approving free trade agreements.

Patricia Karvelas: Joe Biden formed this framework after the US left the CPTPP. Very hard to say - Trans-Pacific Partnership. Why not try to convince the US to re-join the CPTPP?

Minister for Trade: Look, one of the reasons they're re-joining is our encouragement for them to do that. We obviously have a defence relationship with the United States through the AUKUS arrangement, but it's important that we have a trade relationship and it's important that the United States engage in a trading relationship in our region. So, the document I signed today is the first of four pillars, and we are hoping to make significant progress on the remaining pillars over the next couple of days with the Prime Minister joining us here in San Francisco at APEC.

Patricia Karvelas: There's domestic pressure in the US on Joe Biden to abandon these talks altogether. What impact has that had?

Minister for Trade: I's fair to say that post the 2016 election, where former President Trump made an issue of these sorts of trade agreements, that it has been more difficult for the United States to engage in these sorts of discussions. But I'm pretty confident, I have to say, Patricia, that in the next 24-48 hours, we'll actually make pretty significant progress on the outstanding what we call pillars that we are negotiating.

Patricia Karvelas: Can you give me some detail on what you expect?

Minister for Trade: I'm hopeful that for instance, the green trade and investment pillar will be approved, the digital economy provisions will be approved, and the anti-corruption efforts to remove corruption in the region will be approved. That would be three very significant developments. I think they'll all be good for our country. As I think we've spoken about before, Patricia, Australia wants to be a renewable energy superpower. We've got either the largest or the second largest reserves of all the critical minerals that go into, for instance, the electric batteries of the future. We think if we can get this agreement in the next couple of days, that gives us a really good head start in firstly providing those minerals to these countries, but also getting the investment that we need to extract them so that we can meet our target of net zero by 2050.

Patricia Karvelas: Minister, just on another kind of relationship you're working on, you travelled to Shanghai last week, there was a lot of hope during that trip that China would get rid of the remaining tariffs, like seafood and beef, despite the Prime Minister saying the meetings weren't transactional and we understand that, but is there now some evidence emerging? Can you give us an update on whether there are any shifts?

Minister for Trade: We're continuing our discussions and, in fact, I'm meeting my counterpart Wang Wentao this afternoon to further progress those issues. Unlike the barley issue and the wine issue, which were both tariff-related issues where we agreed to suspend our WTO applications in exchange for China reconsidering its tariff arrangement, the issues in respect to lobster and to beef are biosecurity issues. But I remain very confident, based on my meeting last week and hopefully my meeting today, that by Christmas all of these trade impediments will be removed, and we will have restored that stable relationship that we want with our largest trading partner. You need to remember that last year we sold almost $300 billion worth of goods into China in two-way trade. So, they continue to be by far our largest trading partners. We do have these last two issues, but I remain confident that, based on my conversations, that they will be removed.

Patricia Karvelas: Okay, and today is a crucial meeting, as you understand it, for pushing or having some finalisation around that lifting?

Minister for Trade: Look, I wouldn't quite put it at that level, Patricia. Every conversation I have with my counterpart, I raise these issues, and as we've seen, not everything is… Look, let's face it, what we would have liked is all of the impediments to be removed in one fell swoop. That hasn't happened. China has its processes to go through. We understand that, and we are simply encouraging them to complete those processes so Chinese consumers can get the advantage of wonderful Australian lobster, beef, and of course, wine.

Patricia Karvelas: Thank you so much for joining us Minister.

Minister for Trade: Thanks Patricia.

Patricia Karvelas: Trade Minister Don Farrell joining us there. You're listening to Breakfast.

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