Sky News with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-China trade relationship, India and UK free trade agreements.

Kieran Gilbert, Host: Don Farrell is with me here in the studio, as Trudy said there are a number of industries hoping for some relaxation of the trade barriers that have been put in place during this deep freeze in our relations with China. Your colleague Richard Marles met his counterpart again today, which is another sign of the thaw. When should we expect to see the trade relief?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Look, we’re working as hard as we can to bring about a stabilising of our relationship with China. It’s only by talking with the Chinese government that we’re going to resolve the trade blockages that have been a difficult part of our relationship. We saw that triumph of diplomacy as you referred to between Prime Minister Albanese and President Xi last week. I’m in discussions with a range of the affected industries, and we’re working out what our next steps might be.

It’s not an easy issue to resolve, but as I said, it will only be by discussion that we can get through these difficult times. We want to stabilise the relationship. We want to normalise the relationship with China, and we want the Chinese government to lift the bans on those products. What are they? They’re wine, they’re barley, they’re meat and they’re crayfish. All of those products have suffered significant economic damage in Australia.

Kieran Gilbert: Have they found separate markets or would those industries be ready to almost restart at a moment’s notice those exports to China?

Minister for Trade: Look, in terms of the wine industry, the wine industry could get pallets of fantastic Australian wine onto ships to be shipped to China tomorrow if the bans were lifted. Barley, of course, has found alternative markets because of the terrible war between Ukraine and Russia. That’s created other markets. With meat, there have been some other markets created. But, again, we could easily switch production and send to China. And –

Kieran Gilbert: Do you – sorry, on the crayfish? Sorry to interrupt.

Minister for Trade: Crayfish is another one that’s been really hard hit. We haven’t found alternative markets. Costs of production as we know have gone up, and there continue to be some serious issues in the crayfish area. They would be one that could start sending fresh, live crayfish to Hong Kong tomorrow.

Kieran Gilbert: Do you think we could see – I’m sure it would be well received, too, as Australian wine is popular there too, as well as the seafood - but when you look at the sort of calendar, there is the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between China and Australia early next month – only a few weeks away is the date. Would you hope that there might be some move around that date as the sign of good will?

Minister for Trade: All of the indicators are moving in the right direction. The discussions last week, the meetings between Foreign Minister Wong, and the meeting today between our Defence Minister and his counterpart in China, they’re all pointing in the right direction. But the problems didn’t occur overnight, and they won’t be solved overnight. We have to be cautious and careful about how we go about this. Our national interest and our national security are always the priority of this government. We want to resolve these blockages. We don’t want to have to continue with the World Trade Organization disputes. We want to resolve these issues through discussions, and it’s my determination that we’ll do that.

Kieran Gilbert: And, so, you mentioned the WTO. The Director-General has been here this week of the WTO. The final review into those sanctions was due to come up I believe in the first quarter of next year. But you’re hoping that those various barriers will be removed before then?

Minister for Trade: Look, we’re hopeful about that. I’ve made it very clear to my counterpart that we would prefer to resolve these issues by negotiations. That’s the sensible way to proceed. We’ve got the World Trade Organization hearings and they’ll be dealt with in the first part of next year. But we believe there’s an off-ramp here – sensible discussions between ourselves and China can resolve these issues without having to go to litigation.

Kieran Gilbert: A big week on the trade front. Our parliament having passed the free trade deals with the UK and India, and I believe that the Indian one is already now essentially in effect because you spoke to your counterpart overnight and they’ve finalised from their end as well?

Minister for Trade: Yes, that’s correct, Kieran. The Indian process is not as complicated as ours. We have to take our processes through the parliament. In India it only requires the executive to consider that issue. I spoke to my trade counterpart last night. He got on to Prime Minister Modi and as far as the Indians are concerned, all of the legislative processes have been completed. The only two things remaining now both in Australia and India are royal assent, which we expect in both countries in the next couple of days. That means all of the benefits of that free trade agreement can start flowing before Christmas.

Kieran Gilbert: And on the UK front? This has been a bit of a delay I believe due to the dramas on Downing Street.

Minister for Trade: I think there’s probably two things, Kieran, that have held things up. Of course, one was the passing of the Queen. That meant that their parliament was suspended, as ours was. And, of course, the change of Prime Minister has also led to some delays. Look, again, I’ve spoken with my counterpart in the last couple of days. They’re determined to proceed with it. But there are a few more steps in the process that have to be completed. I’m going to contact them again today and request that they see if they can speed the process up given the process or the success that we’ve had of getting this legislation through.

Kieran Gilbert: Two big break throughs in the parliament on the trade font – UK and India, free trade agreements. Don Farrell, thank you for talking us through it today, the Trade Minister. Appreciate it.

Minister for Trade: Thanks, Kieran. Always a pleasure.

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