We will protect our core attributes and world-class farmers

  • Op ed
16 May 2020

Australia’s good fortune is built on many attributes. We stand on the shoulders of our resilient and creative people. We make the most of our abundance of natural assets. And we enjoy lifestyles made possible by values of freedom and respect that are protected by our sovereign democratic institutions.

Our lives have been made better through our delivery of open, rules-based trading arrangements with many countries. One in five Australian jobs is now trade related and, as a country, we’ve got even better at seizing opportunities to export.

We’ve now recorded 27 consecutive months of trade surpluses, meaning we’re routinely exporting more than we’re importing. There were 8,000 more Australian businesses, mostly small and medium sized businesses, involved in exporting immediately prior to COVID-19 than there were six years ago.

Trade doesn’t just support jobs and wages, but also helps to generate the taxes that pay for things like our health, education, defence force and social safety net. Western Australia is a powerhouse of Australian export activity, driven by the world’s most productive farmers and most efficient resources companies.

Australians have come to appreciate the value our trading relationships bring. It is therefore understandable that some worry when they appear to be threatened. Threats can take many forms and we should always be careful not to misinterpret the natural unpredictability of doing business in other countries as something more. But nor should we be naïve to any attempts at economic coercion.

Whether things are going perfectly or times are challenging, we should always remember the core attributes of our success that we need to protect – our people, our land, our values and institutions. While trade may be of enormous benefit to us we don’t, as Scott Morrison has said, trade away our values.

In recent decades, as China has recorded remarkable economic growth thanks to the program of opening and reform commenced by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, it has commensurately grown as an economic partner. Today, China is by far the largest economy in our Indo-Pacific region. Unsurprisingly, that has made it Australia’s largest trading partner and the largest trading partner for many other nations too.

Beyond economics, China is a valued regional and strategic partner of Australia as well as a major global power. However, our values and systems of government differ. That we don’t always agree shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. But we should both respect the sovereignty of each other and engage with respect, knowing that we will forever share a place in the same dynamic region of the world.

Over the last week the actions of Chinese regulators have threatened to disrupt exports by Australia’s barley and beef sectors. Following recent comments by China’s ambassador to Australia, some people here, in China and around the world have understandably sought to ascribe motives to these regulatory actions. Chinese officials, meanwhile, have responded that they “will make a just and objective final ruling on its anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases against barley” and have described their actions in relation to beef processors as “highly technical” regulatory matters.

Last year, with drought hitting the east coast, around 95 per cent of our barley exports to China originated from Western Australia. WA farmers and traders have worked hard for over a century to establish themselves as competitive and reliable suppliers of high-quality grains. The ties between Australia’s barley exporters and China’s brewing industry going back to the 1960s. The duties that China suggests it may apply to WA’s barley would threaten the viability of this trade.

Our standing as a world-class and competitive supplier of barley has been built off the back of hard work and innovation, not trade distorting subsidies. Our exporters price their product in an entirely commercial way.

I want to assure all Australians we are doing everything we can to protect the $600 million barley market and the jobs it supports, without compromising our values or policies. We are working around the clock with the grains industry to mount the strongest possible case in the time remaining to uphold the integrity of our world leading barley producers.

We are also continuing our strategy of opening up more market options for them. That’s why we already have trade deals with countries like Japan, Korea and Vietnam as well a new deal with Indonesia entering into force on 5 July. We will continue to back the ability of our exporters to grow the best crops in the world and seize export opportunities without trade distorting subsidies into as many nations as possible.

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