Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Visit to China, Australia-China trade relationship, foreign investment in Australia, Australians detained in China.

Sabra Lane, host: The Trade Minister is Don Farrell, and he joined me earlier. Don Farrell, how long do you think Australian exporters are going to have to wait for normal business to resume with China?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Look, I hope not very long at all. I had a very successful and constructive visit to China last week, and I think it represents another pretty important step towards stabilising our relationship. I co-chaired the 16th Joint Ministerial Economic Commission with my Chinese counterpart, Minister Wang. What you have to remember, Sabra, was that this was the first in-person meeting between the Australian and the Chinese trade Ministers since 2019.It was a pretty warm and constructive and, frankly, a candid discussion, and I thought we made some progress in stabilising that relationship.

Sabra Lane: Being candid then, do you think it'll be weeks or months before things return to normal? Do you suspect that one day these barriers will just mysteriously vanish, and business will resume without fanfare?

Minister for Trade: I don't think they'll mysteriously disappear Sabra. Let's take the issue of barley - as a measure of goodwill, we decided that we would suspend our WTO application to overturn the 80% tariff that the Chinese government had imposed on Australian barley. In return, the Chinese government has now expedited its review of those tariffs, and the Chinese Minister Wang confirmed on Friday that that process was well underway. So, I don't think they'll mysteriously disappear. I think if things go to plan, there'll be a decision by the Chinese government. We're hopeful that those decisions will remove those tariffs and we can get back to normal trade with barley.

Sabra Lane: Do you think that will be weeks or months?

Minister for Trade: I don't want to particularly put a date on it. Of course, when we suspended our application, we were talking about a couple of months, and so we are a month or so into that process. What I've said to the Minister is that this process is the process we'd like to use to then resolve the issue of the issue of wine. But there are other issues, there are biosecurity issues that we need to work through in respect of other products like meat, and like lobsters. My objective in this process is to simply persevere and persist so that at the end of the day, all of the trade impediments are removed, we're back to a stable relationship with China, and we've got normal trade.

Sabra Lane: China says it notes our concerns on remaining trade barriers. How are you interpreting that?

Minister for Trade: Very positively, Sabra. I thought that was a very generous comment by Minister Wang. As I said, it was a warm and friendly meeting. But look, the problems aren't solved overnight. We've got to persist with this, and that's my objective. I want these trade impediments removed. We want Australian food and wine producers to get their products back into China, and we want the Chinese consumers to have the advantage of the wonderful Australian products.

Sabra Lane: China says it expects its companies operating here will be treated fairly and justly. Was Minister Wang candid in your talks about what the government means by that?

Minister for Trade: He raised a series of pretty well-known issues. I think on the Chinese side, he's entitled to do that. I pointed out to him in the last financial year, we approved over 270 Chinese investments in Australia totalling $4.8 billion. The company, Bauer Steel, has just made some further investments into Western Australia, totalling $2 billion. So, it's very clear that we welcome foreign investment from all countries overseas, and the Chinese are continuing to invest in Australia

Sabra Lane: You also had candid discussions about consular cases notably detained Australians Yang Hengjun and Cheng Lei. How candid were you? And how hopeful should their families be that their circumstances might change?

Minister for Trade: It's terrible Cheng Lei was unable to be with her children on Mother's Day. I was as direct as I could be. We want these issues resolved, and we want these two Australians back in our country. It's important, I think, that every opportunity we get to talk to one of our counterparts in China that we raise these issues.

Sabra Lane: Minister, thank you.

Minister for Trade: Thank you Sabra.

Sabra Lane: And that's the Trade Minister, Don Farrell.

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