Press conference with Penny Wong

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Removal of Chinese tariffs on Australian barley; WTO disputes with China; Detention of Australian citizens in China.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Thanks very much for coming. I’m here today with the Minister for Trade to make an announcement about the tariffs on, or the anti-dumping and countervailing duties on Australian barley, that were imposed by China.

We have been notified that China will remove the 80.5 per cent anti-dumping and countervailing duties on Australian barley as of tomorrow, the 5th of August. This is the right outcome. The right outcome for Australian producers and the right outcome for Chinese consumers. It affirms the approach, the calm and consistent approach that the Albanese government has taken since we have come to office on these issues.

The removal of the duties is the result of work by government and industry to resolve this matter. I want to recognise, we talk a lot about diversification, Don often talks a lot about it. The barley industry has been a success story in diversification. In fact, our barley producers have increased their exports to the rest of the world during this period from $400 million to $3 billion, an increase of in excess of 600 per cent.

Can I acknowledge and thank the officials from our department and other departments who worked so hard to get this outcome. Can I acknowledge and thank industry and businesses, the affected businesses, for their support and their patience through this process, including through the World Trade Organization.

We would not have been able to get this outcome without working through the WTO which, of course, is an important part of the rules-based order, the multi-lateral order that Australia has such great interest, has such a great interest in. It’s an arrangement and a system which also encourages bilateral resolutions to disputes, and that is what has been achieved.

We will continue to work consistent with the WTO system to stand up for the rights of Australian exporters while resolving differences over trade matters. We acknowledge that this matter has been resolved. We are pleased that this has occurred, and it affirms the government’s approach, which is to cooperate with China where we can, disagree where we must but engage in our national interest.

And if I can hand over now to my good friend Don Farrell, who has steered the management of this dispute so adroitly with great success for our nation and particularly for barley producers. Don Farrell.

DON FARRELL, TRADE MINISTER: Thanks, Foreign Minister, and thank you for your role in resolving this most difficult issue, in particular, your trip to China just before Christmas last year which opened the way to resolving this issue.

And I welcome the development this afternoon that our barley growers and our exporters will now be able to re-enter tariff-free, the Chinese market. It’s another very positive step in the full resumption of normal trade between Australia and China. Since May 2020 China’s 80.5 per cent tariff on Australian barley has effectively blocked almost $1billion annually of sale of barley into the Chinese market.

In April this year, Australia reached an agreement with China to temporarily suspend the dispute that we had taken through the World Trade Organisation to get the tariffs removed. China’s removal of duty on barley means Australia will now discontinue legal proceedings at the WTO in respect of barley. The outcome demonstrates the importance, as the Foreign Minister just said, of the WTO processes in resolving and defending Australia’s world-class producers and farmers.

I’ve consistently said, including my warm meetings with the Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao that we would prefer to resolve all of our disputes with China through discussion and dialogue rather than disputation. Just to put this settlement in perspective, since the Labor Government came to office 15 months ago we started with about $20 billion worth of trade impediments; that’s now been reduced to about $2 billion. So it’s a very significant progress in that 15 months.

In this case, the dialogue and the goodwill and, I might say, the patience and the persistence have proven effective in helping Australian barley growers and exporters to achieve an expedited outcome. And that’s the important part of what we’ve done here – we’ve expedited the process of lifting these tariffs.

We intend to use this process as a template for resolving the issue in respect of wine, which is still ongoing. We do have a WTO case in respect of wine and, of course, we’d like to see this process used to resolve that issue as we seek to resolve all of those outstanding issues. And, of course, we want all Australian grain producers who want to go into China to be registered under the Chinese system so that grain sales, tariff-free, can resume as quickly as possible. Thank you very much.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you. I’m happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: So when did you learn that the tariffs would be lifted?

FOREIGN MINISTER: The Ministry of Commerce announced that today.

JOURNALIST: And does this pave the way for the Prime Minister to visit China later this year?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, this is certainly a positive development. What I would say is the Prime Minister has made clear he would welcome a visit, and we hope we can continue on the positive path that we are on.

JOURNALIST: Is there any update on securing the release of the two detained Australians, Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun as well?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Can I say in relation to Ms Cheng Lei, we share the concerns of her family and friends at the continued delays in her case. We are approaching, I think, three years of detention. We are also concerned for Dr Yang. We will continue to advocate at all levels for Ms Cheng Lei and Dr Yang to be reunited with their families. We will continue to do that, as we have done at my level, at the Prime Minister’s level and at official level.

JOURNALIST: When do you think we can expect to see that breakthrough on wine as well as –

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, I think as the Trade Minister has outlined, we – the approach that the government took steered by Senator Minister Farrell was to have a WTO dispute then to utilise the bilateral processes which are enabled by the World Trade Organisation. That has enabled the resolution on barley. And as the Trade Minister said, we would seek to undertake a similar approach on wine. We have a dispute before the WTO in relation to wine.

We are confident of our case and we retain our view, which we have expressed publicly and to the Chinese officials, that it is in the interests of both countries for these impediments to be removed. We do want Chinese consumers being able to enjoy Australian wine, and if I may be parochial for a minute, particularly South Australian wine.

JOURNALIST: And can you provide any assurances to rock lobster and red meat exporters caught up in the deep freeze?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, there have been movements in relation to other lines – and I don’t know if Senator Farrell wishes to add to this – but I would make the point the principal position of the Australian Government, which is consistent with what we assert and advocate privately as well as our public comments, is that all trade impediments ought be removed. We think it is in the interests of both countries for that to occur.

Anything more? Thanks very much for coming.

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