Sky News Sunday Agenda with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: AU-EU trade talks, Prime Minister's Visit to China, Hamas-Israel conflict.

Kieran Gilbert, host: Welcome back to the program. Let's go live to Osaka, Japan. Joining me is the Trade Minister, Don Farrell. Minister, you've had talks with your French counterpart ahead of the resumption of the EU trade talks. We know that, it's pretty clear the French are the ones holding up the deal. How did the talks go with your French colleague?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Look, I've managed to build up a good relationship over the last 18 months with my French counterpart, but they have their interests to push, and my job is to push Australia's interests, and to get the best possible deal for Australian farmers, Australian workers, Australian producers, and Australian businesses. I'm very strongly pushing the case with the French, and with any other European country that I'm talking to, that we need a better deal before we're going to sign anything with the Europeans.

I walked away from an agreement back in July because I didn't think it was good enough for Australia. I'm prepared to do the same again. I don't want to do that in these very uncertain times, it's important that you have friends on the world stage, and the Europeans should be good friends with us. But at the moment, the offer that's on the table isn't good enough, and I'm aiming to get a better one.

Kieran Gilbert: I understand that the Europeans have not just sent their Trade Minister to Japan, but also their Agriculture Minister. Is that a sign that they could be keen to get this thing done because of their traditionally protectionist approach to agriculture?

Minister for Trade: Look, I'm not sure how I read that. Of course, it means I'm not fighting just one Minister, I'm fighting two Ministers. And we're not just dealing with one country, we're dealing with 27 countries. So, as I've said a couple of times to you before, Kieran, if this was an easy task, somebody else would have already done it. It's not easy dealing with the Europeans, but my job is to get the best possible deal I can get for Australia. And if we get a better offer, and if I believe that it's in the national interest of Australia, then obviously we have to consider it.

Kieran Gilbert: Minister, you're going to be heading to China later in the week as well. I want to ask you about the death of former Premier Li Keqiang at the age of 68. He was second in charge basically for 10 years, but really frozen out at the back end of his time in office, and now he's passed away. Will this affect the official schedule of you and the Prime Minister when you arrive in China?

Minister for Trade: I don't believe so, Kieran. Obviously, he was a key person in the Chinese Government, but of course, we've now established very good relationships at my level with my counterpart, Wang Wentao. I expect that the meetings that we had planned will continue to go ahead and, of course, I expect that the Prime Minister will meet his counterpart, the President of China.

As you know, we've been gradually stabilising our relationship with China. When we came to office 18 months ago, we started with about $20 billion worth of trade impediments, we've now, particularly if we can get wine back into the Chinese market, we've whittled that down to about a billion dollars. Still a couple of important issues to resolve, lobster and meat. But bit by bit, we are stabilising that relationship, and I don't think the death will have any impact on the progress that we're making in that regard.

Kieran Gilbert: Does the world we face at the moment, you touched on this earlier, great uncertainty, conflict in Europe, in the Middle East, does it reduce the lustre and attraction of the trade agenda? Does it make it harder to get deals done, given this uncertainty, which is gripping many parts of the world?

Minister for Trade: I don't think it makes it harder, Kieran. What I think it does is make it more important that we sign up for agreements with our friends in the rest of the world. That uncertainty that's there, we need to reduce that uncertainty. One way we can do that is by building trading relationships with our friends, and that includes the Europeans. Part of our objective since coming to office has not only been to restore that relationship and rebuild that relationship with China, but to diversify our trading relationships. Because of the uncertainty you've just talked about, Kieran, I don't think it could be a more important task to achieve that.

So, as you know, in the last 18 months, we've managed to get through the parliament a free trade agreement with the Indians, that's already produced terrific benefits for our businesses. We've signed a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom that's already doubling our trade relationship with the United Kingdom. But the big one, of course, is the Europeans - 450 million people, an economy of $24 trillion – it’ll be important one to get.

Kieran Gilbert: We're almost out of time, quickly, Tony Burke has made some comments in support of Palestinians. He didn't reject the notion of apartheid or genocide being carried out in the region when it was put to him. Is he diverging from the official government position? And as Peter Dutton has argued, does this reflect badly on the Prime Minister's ability to maintain unity on this issue?

Minister for Trade: The Foreign Minister and the rest of the Parliament, both the Government and the Opposition, have condemned the actions of Hamas terrorists a couple of weeks ago. We continue to condemn those actions. Obviously, individual ministers represent their particular communities. Nobody, nobody wants to see the death of innocent civilians in this terrible conflict. But this government has been unequivocal, unequivocal in its condemnation of those terrorist attacks by Hamas and will continue to be condemning those actions. Israel has a right to defend itself. Look, I have to say this, I don't think Mr Dutton's comments are helpful at this time. He's seeking to get political advantage out of this terrible conflict, and I don't think that's the direction we should be heading in.

Kieran Gilbert: Trade Minister Don Farrell, live from Osaka. Thanks for your time.

Minister for Trade: Thanks, Kieran.

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