TV Interview, Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-Singapore trade relations, Trade with China, Federal Budget.

Kieran Gilbert, host: Let's bring in now the Trade Minister, Don Farrell. He joins me after senior ministers have met with their Singaporean counterparts. You’ve just wrapped up your talks, along with Penny Wong and the Defence Minister Richard Marles. How important is Singapore in that trade sense for Australia?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Thanks, Kieran. Well, they're one of our key allies in the region, not only in the trade sense, but also in a defence sense. This year, we celebrate 20 years of a Free Trade Agreement with Singapore. We've recently signed some new agreements with them, both in terms of the green economy and the digital economy. Today's discussion was really about how do we translate words on a piece of paper for an agreement to actual results and getting some benefits for both of our countries to improve our prosperity and our future growth prospects?

Kieran Gilbert: And often there's a crossover, isn't there, between, say, the trade and that security component? I know that the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Marles, often refers to Singapore because it's so crucial as a supplier of our liquid fuels.

Minister for Trade: They're a key supplier of that, and of course, what we'd like to do as part of our decarbonisation process and our move to net zero by 2050 is supply those critical minerals and those rare earths to Singapore so they can move with us in terms of that transition. They'll be great supporters in that process, just as they've been in supplying energy to us in the past.

Kieran Gilbert: You were in Vietnam recently, and more broadly, the region - a lot of discussions with Singapore today. Is it still that important to have a regional diversification of our trade markets given the thaw that is underway in our trade relations with our biggest trading partner being China? Things are getting back on an even keel, is that diversification still important?

Minister for Trade: It is, and I think it's actually more important than ever, Kieran, because we never want to find ourselves in a situation where we're so totally reliant on one market. We can do two things here - we can stabilise our relationship with China, we can get back to selling all of those products that we used to sell, like wine, like barley, cotton, you name it, all of those products. We can also diversify to our region. I saw in Vietnam, I saw in the Philippines, and today, in my discussions with Singapore, lots and lots of opportunities where we can build that trade diversification relationship and benefit both of our countries.

Kieran Gilbert: You had mentioned to me earlier and our viewers that you would be going to China or that you would hope to within the first half of this year. What sort of timeline are we looking at? Have you got a date yet?

Minister for Trade: We're progressing that. As you know, I met with the Chinese Trade Minister virtually, and since that time, there's been discussions with our officials. I don't want to go to China just for the sake of going to China, I want to go to make sure that we are making progress on all of these outstanding issues that we've got in terms of our trading relationship. But I can tell you this, it'll be very soon.

Kieran Gilbert: So, very soon you'll be heading there? So that also means further progress in terms of those areas that have been a problem where those tariffs have been in place.

Minister for Trade: We're all about stabilising our relationship with China. The problems that we have with our trade situation didn't occur overnight and unfortunately, they're not going to be resolved overnight, but we need to progress them. We need to be persistent and to persevere, and one by one, I am hopeful, in fact, I'm confident that we will resolve all of our outstanding issues with the Chinese government.

Kieran Gilbert: And you won't have to go back to the WTO because we know you've paused, yes, you've paused that action. So you still feel confident that'll all be resolved?

Minister for Trade: All of the messages that are coming out at the officials level with China have been very, very positive. I've got no reason to think that the goodwill that we showed in suspending our World Trade Organisation dispute on barley won't result in a positive outcome for our barley growers.

Kieran Gilbert: Now, the massive boost to the budget bottom line, so much so that there could be a narrow surplus in next week's budget. We're hearing a sort of small deficit, narrow surplus, either way, a lot due to these commodity exports. It continues to be a huge industry for Australia, albeit it sounds like there'll be some tweak in the way we forecast those exports in the budget next week. But this remains a pillar of our exports more broadly, isn't it?

Minister for Trade: Export prices go up and down, unfortunately. It would be good if they stayed high all of the time, but of course, we know that they don't. I mean, part of the reason why prices are so high at the moment, of course, is this terrible war between Russia and Ukraine, and it's unexpectedly, but probably in the short term, pushed up prices. There's no guarantee that those prices will continue into the future. Like you, I'll look forward to seeing what the final result is next week in the Budget.

Kieran Gilbert: We do indeed. Now, I know you've got to go, you've got a busy afternoon, but quickly, my colleague Andrew Clennell was reporting one of these issues out of the NDIS. Massive markups on things like an aluminium shower chair retails at $169 - one company charging it at $1150. I know Bill Shorten is undertaking a full review and trying to sort of rein in costs with the growth limit to 8 per cent, but that sort of behaviour, what do you say to that?

Minister for Trade: All of those issues are the subject of work that's being done, as you say, by Bill Shorten. I'm very happy to leave it in his very capable hands and see what comes out of all of the work that he's doing in that space.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay Trade Minister Don Farrell. I appreciate your time. We look forward to hearing that confirmation on when you head to China soon.


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