TV Interview, Sky News with Cory Bernardi

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-China trade relations, trade diversification.

Cory Bernardi, host: Okay, there's one bright spot on the horizon for many Australian businesses, it looks increasingly likely that a more normal resumption of trade with China could resume as early as next month. Now, this is going to be particularly important for those industries caught up in a terrible, and I suspect, likely illegal trade sanctions that China imposed on our wine, lobster, barley, coal, and other import and export industries. If those trade sanctions are lifted, it's likely the result of some deaf diplomacy and a slightly less inflammatory rhetoric by the current government versus their predecessor. Don't get me wrong, I have always supported free trade, while also warning of the perils of putting all your proverbial trade eggs in a single basket.

One industry I'm involved in, that's the rock lobster industry, was certainly guilty of that business mistake. And so, while we should all welcome any advances in our trade relations with the Chinese Government, we should do so with an eye to never being captive to their whims ever again. My father often told me, "If your business only has one customer, a customer effectively owns your business.” Alright, one of the key players in this thawing of relations between China and Australia is Trade Minister, Senator Don Farrell. I'm glad to say he joins me now. Senator, thank you for your time tonight. What is the status of the sanctions against our major export industries like coal, wine and seafood currently?

Minister for Trade: Nice to join you, Cory. Look, there's a range of products, and you've just about mentioned all of them where there are currently trade impediments with decisions that have been made by the Chinese Government. We are in the process of trying to stabilise our relationship with China and to restore our trading relationship with them in respect of all of those products you have just mentioned, plus a couple of others. But as you've just said, we're also interested in a trade diversification policy, and that means opening up new markets for all of those products. As a result, just before Christmas, the Australian Parliament passed a free trade agreement with India with a population of 1.4 billion people. We also passed an agreement with the United Kingdom, they've yet to approve that free trade agreement on their side, but I'm hopeful that that will happen in the next month.

Of course, the big one there is the European Free Trade Agreement with Europe’s population of 450 million people, and trillions of dollars of trade. We had a full week of negotiations with the Europeans this week, and there'll be another round - what we're calling the final round - in a few weeks’ time. So, on the one hand, we're trying to overcome these trade impediments with China, so products that you've just mentioned, like lobster, can get back onto the tables of Chinese consumers, but also ensuring that for the future, we've got a diversified range of trading partners so we can continue to expand into the future.

Cory Bernardi: Well, that's good news, and I take that it's also bipartisan policy to have these free trade agreements. I'm delighted to say that both the previous government and this one are continuing it. But China cut off these exports on basically a whim, they didn't like what the government was doing, trying to hold them to account. It's cost the Australian economy a heck of a lot of money. How much money has it cost us, and what can we do to ensure it never happens again?

Minister for Trade: It roughly costs about $20 billion worth of business each year, but you do have to put that into perspective. Even though we've had these trade impediments on those products I've just mentioned, China is also our largest trading partner. Two-way trade last financial year was almost $300 billion. $300 billion worth of trade. So, on the one hand, trade with China is more than the trade we do with the United States, Japan, Korea, France and the United Kingdom put together. It's a massive amount of trade. Of course, what we want to do is get back that additional $20 billion worth of trade. That's my aim, that's the job I've set myself to achieve. I had a good meeting last week with my Chinese equivalent. We hadn't been able to meet earlier for a range of reasons, including the passing of the Queen, but we're now on track to get those negotiations back on a sensible footing. I'm hoping that within the next couple of weeks I'll have the opportunity to go to China. Minister Wang has invited me up there, I've accepted that invitation, and I'm hoping that that will be the start of what the Chinese themselves are calling the thaw in relations between us and the Chinese Government.

Cory Bernardi: I'm sure that will be welcomed by Australia's export industries and people wanting to do business with China. A discussion of a thaw, I've seen some words in some of their official press and media over there suggesting the bans have already been lifted, and yet I don't see the evidence, and I talk to people on the ground. When do you think Australian businesses in these industries can open their doors to China for business again, or should I say the Chinese will open their doors for Australian businesses again?

Minister for Trade: Look Cory, the problems didn't arise overnight, they arose over a period of time, so they're not going to be solved, regrettably overnight. But all of the indications on a whole range of products where there are currently impediments are indicating that there's going to be a relaxation and a restoration of our trading relationship with China. If we look at lobsters, for the first time, a lobster company put in an application to export Australian, beautiful Australian lobster into China, and that application was not rejected. So, we're expecting the first renewed shipment of lobster.

Last week, a shipload of coal turned up at a Chinese port, and again, we understand that there were no problems by the Chinese Government receiving that shipment. The Minister himself told me last week that they had started reordering Australian timber products. Timber Products have been subject to a ban, and so that's positive news. Some of my friends in the wine industry tell me that there are indications that they might be expecting some orders in the near future. All the news in this area is positive, we've just got to make sure that we stabilise that relationship, and we build on the discussions that the Prime Minister has had with President Xi, the discussions that Foreign Minister Wong has had with her equivalent, and now the discussions that I've had with my counterpart.

Cory Bernardi: Alright, Senator Don Farrell, Minister for Trade, thank you for joining me on Bernardi tonight. I really appreciate your efforts here because a lot of industry people tell me how proactive you've actually been talking with them about their concerns and representing them on the national and international stage. So, thank you very much.

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