TV interview, ABC 7.30 with Sarah Ferguson

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Premier Li’s visit, trade with China, Australia-China relationship.

Sarah Ferguson, host: The visit of the Chinese Premier has dominated the news since the weekend, but Li Qiang has just left the country without a commitment to remove the last trade restrictions. The Premier and his Trade Minister spent the final day of the visit in Perth with the Prime Minister, where he met a delegation of business leaders and visited a lithium refinery in Western Australia. Our own Trade Minister, Don Farrell, spoke to us moments after farewelling the Chinese delegation.

Don Farrell, welcome to 7.30.

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Nice to be with you Sarah.

Sarah Ferguson: You've just said farewell to Premier Li and your counterpart, their Trade Minister. Did the Premier give you assurances that this apparent thawing of relations would lead to China lifting the remaining sanctions on Australia?

Minister for Trade: Sarah, two years ago we started with about $20 billion worth of trade impediments with China. With the recent release of Australian wine back into China, that really leaves lobster and a couple of small beef abattoirs to be resolved.

Sarah Ferguson: But given that we've just had this big meeting with all the fanfare, isn't that disappointing that you haven't got a decision before their departure?

Minister for Trade: Oh, look, each of these items have had to be worked through, through the Chinese system. The issue with lobster is not a trade issue as such. It's a biosecurity issue. They have a set of processes that they have to work through.

Sarah Ferguson: Let me just interrupt you there. Is it a biosecurity issue or is it part of a range of sanctions carried out against Australia as a form of punishment for things that Australia was deemed to have done that displeased China?

Minister for Trade: The Chinese have said all along - I've now had eight meetings with my Chinese counterpart - they've said all along this is a biosecurity issue. Our Australian officials, our agricultural officials have been working very closely with their equivalents in China to resolve the issues. And I'm now very, very confident as a result of the meetings today and yesterday, that these final issues will be resolved, and resolved very quickly, and that Chinese consumers will very soon have the benefit of wonderful Australian rock lobster on their menu.

Sarah Ferguson: So, what's the remaining problem? What's the remaining obstacle?

Minister for Trade: Look, they have a set of processes that they go through. We don't determine the order in which the Chinese government resolves these issues. We've had about twelve products that were subject to impediments. One by one, after careful work by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, myself, we've managed to get all but one or two of them removed. I'm now very confident that as a result of this successful meeting with the Chinese Premier, and the Chinese Trade Minister, all of those impediments will be removed.

Sarah Ferguson: How can you be confident that you have a genuinely renewed partnership, which is the phrase the government has been using with a country that showed itself to be so capricious?

Minister for Trade: My job, my job two years ago was to try and stabilise the relationship. I've built a mature and sensible relationship with my counterpart and, okay, it's taken a little bit of time to resolve all of the issues, but we've showed patience in working through all of these issues. We've continued to have dialogue and that dialogue has resulted in the removal of all of these impediments that we started with. So, I do have a degree of confidence that, having built up the relationship with my Chinese counterpart, that we can resolve future issues by dialogue and discussion. That's how the Albanese Government would like to resolve our issues, dialogue and discussion.

Sarah Ferguson: Australia benefited in some ways despite the loss of direct sales, but it also benefited from the pressure that it came under to diversify its trading partners and find new markets elsewhere. Should Australia resist the temptation in the future to be so dependent on China?

Minister for Trade: Sarah, I think we can do both.

Sarah Ferguson: Well, you can't. You really have to choose, don't you? You can't be entirely dependent on one country and choose to diversify, its one or the other.

Minister for Trade: No, I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time, to be honest with you Sarah. We're a population of 27 million people. We produce food to feed 90 million people. I think we can continue to increase our sales to China and that's of course, what we've been doing as we -

Sarah Ferguson: This is a question about diversification, isn't it? It's a question about whether or not Australia understands that it should never rely to such a large degree on China ever again.

Minister for Trade: Look, I think there's two aspects to this, Sarah, to be honest with you. We can increase the volume of our sales to China and remember this, both the terms of trade and the volume are at record levels. But we can also diversify. And of course, that's exactly what the Albanese Government has been doing. We've got a new trade agreement with India that's resulted in a 60 per cent increase in agricultural products just in the first year. We've got a new trade agreement with the United Kingdom that's doubled our trade to the United Kingdom, and in products like beef and sheep meat, a 500 per cent increase.

Sarah Ferguson: The Government's response to yesterday's attempts by Chinese officials to block cameras filming Cheng Lei, the Australian journalist who had been imprisoned in China and was yesterday just doing her job. Now, the Government's response was somewhat muted at best. Were you worried that you might upset the conclusion of these trade deals if you said more?

Minister for Trade: Certainly not. Certainly not, Sarah. I was at that meeting and I have to say I didn't see anything untoward. When it was drawn to the Prime Minister's attention, he did raise it with his Chinese counterpart. I mean, the reason Cheng Lei is in Australia -

Sarah Ferguson: The question is whether or not their complaints to the Chinese embassy were muted because of their concerns about causing difficulty during the visit.

Minister for Trade: It wasn't just raising the issue with the Chinese embassy. The Prime Minister raised it directly with his counterpart. So, I'm not sure what else the Prime Minister could have done in the circumstances. As I say, I was in the room. I didn't see anything untoward going on. But the fact of the matter is, Cheng Lei is in Australia. She is able to be a journalist working here because of the good work that Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong did on her behalf with the Chinese government.

Sarah Ferguson: Don Farrell, thank you for joining us just after you've said goodbye to the Chinese Premier.

Minister for Trade: Thanks Sarah.

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