Sky News with Tom Connell
Tom Connell, Host: Labor when it came into government was determined to change a few things, including our relationship with China. There has certainly been a thawing with meetings between ministers and as well between the Prime Minister and the President. So, what will the thawing actually mean though?
Joining me now is Trade and Tourism Minister Don Farrell. Thanks very much for your time.
Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Good to be with you Tom.
Tom Connell: You’ve said this week all tariffs should be lifted by China. Is that the pass mark on these thawing relations?
Minister for Trade: We have three – sorry, four really serious trade blockages with China. One relates to wine, another one relates to barley, meat and of all things, crayfish. The issues with that blockage are different with different products. We need to find a way through with all of those four products to make sure that we can get our produce into China, and the Chinese people can get the benefit of the wonderful produce that we produce.
Tom Connell: But Australia’s claimed all the way through that the various claims that have been made by the Chinese government are nebulous and this is a punishment right? And so, until all four of those are resolved in some way is it not a true thawing? Is there still a bit of ice involved in the relationship?
Minister for Trade: Look, we saw the triumph of diplomacy a couple of weeks ago when the Prime Minister met for the first time in six years with the President of China. The relationship is thawing, you’re correct there. We want a stabilised relationship with China, and we are determined to do it. Last night I had a chat with the Chinese Ambassador at DFAT. It was a very positive vibe with the ambassador. I’m hopeful that as time goes by one by one, we can resolve all of those outstanding blockages.
Tom Connell: Did you get any indications last night from the ambassador?
Minister for Trade: No, we didn’t get into details, but it was a very warm and friendly discussion.
Tom Connell: Did you get – were the 14 grievances mentioned?
Minister for Trade: No grievances mentioned, and I didn’t mention our four grievances, either.
Tom Connell: Okay.
Minister for Trade: It was a warm and friendly meeting where I made it clear that I’m prepared to meet at any time, anywhere to resolve these outstanding issues.
Tom Connell: Okay. Several reports this week that the Australian government could look to limit Chinese ownership or involvement in mining our rare earth minerals. Did that come up with your meeting with the ambassador?
Minister for Trade: No, that wasn’t discussed at all. And I don’t think we were just talking about a single country with that discussion. I think the whole issue of our valuable critical minerals and rare earths is something that we need to have a discussion about in Australia, and of course, that’s why the Treasurer has put it on the agenda.
Tom Connell: But you’re not picking up any offence so far from China, given that conversation has started?
Minister for Trade: No concerns raised about that issue.
Tom Connell: Okay.
Minister for Trade: The Americans have introduced a piece of legislation – the Inflation Reduction Act. It’s going to significantly change the way in which we deal with the issue of critical minerals and rare earths.
Tom Connell: Okay.
Minister for Trade: It’s also going to be important in my discussions with the Europeans about a free trade agreement.
Tom Connell: One thing not mentioned amongst tariffs there; a massive drop-off in Chinese students enrolled in our universities. We had Covid interruption. But it’s still way down - it hasn’t gone up at all since then. Is that a deliberate strategy as well by the Chinese government, do you believe?
Minister for Trade: Look, in fairness, I don’t think it is, Tom.
Tom Connell: Okay.
Minister for Trade: Look, we’ve managed to get –
Tom Connell: I know they’re living in a different sort of Covid regime, so.
Minister for Trade: Look, and I think that’s the immediate problem. The reality is Australians can’t really get into China at the moment and Chinese, whether they’re students or tourists, can’t get out. So, I don’t think it’s a strategy as such.
Tom Connell: Right, there is a line. But you have no indication that there’s a deliberate strategy to –
Minister for Trade: No, no. And I don’t believe there is.
Tom Connell: Okay. India trade deal done. Is it fair to say it’s not as comprehensive as we would like? It’s still a pretty protected economy?
Minister for Trade: Yes. Look, that’s a fair assessment Tom. But all the indications from the Indians are that they want the relationship to go further. I’ll be meeting with my counterpart early in the new year to have a second round of negotiations.
Tom Connell: Right.
Minister for Trade: I’d be hopeful that as a result of those discussions – I’ve built up a very good relationship with my Indian counterpart, Minister Goyal – that he’s keen to progress the relationship, and so are we.
Tom Connell: So, it’s a question of get something done, show that the earth’s not going to fall in and then really press harder? This is far from mission accomplished?
Minister for Trade: Look, no, you’re right. There’s still plenty of work to be done. I don’t think even the previous government would have been claiming that it’s finished business there.
Tom Connell: Do they get credit for getting a lot of this work done, the Coalition?
Minister for Trade: Well, they get credit for the agreement, of course. But what they should have done and what they didn’t do was process these agreements through our political system. And that’s the thing that –
Tom Connell: It all takes time, doesn’t it?
Minister for Trade: It takes time, but they should have started the process, and I believe completed the process, under the previous government. We were given that job, and despite claims by the now opposition that we couldn’t do it, we did do it.
Tom Connell: Okay. All right, well, we will have to leave it there. We’ll talk to you again soon.
Minister for Trade: Thanks, Tom. Have a good Christmas.
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