Interview on 2GB Breakfast with Ben Fordham

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership; New COVID Cluster in SA.
16 November 2020

Ben Fordham: Well the Federal Government is trumpeting a new trade deal; it's being described as the biggest ever. Fifteen countries are involved and it covers about 30 per cent of the global economy. Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and even China. But how confident can we really be about China's involvement? Simon Birmingham is the Trade Minister. He joins us live on the line. Minister, good morning to you.

Simon Birmingham: G'day, Ben. Good to be with you.

Ben Fordham: How confident can we be that China is going to play by the rules, considering they're jamming us at every opportunity at the moment?

Simon Birmingham: Ben, there's no doubt lots of the decisions that Chinese regulators have taken this year that are cause for real concern. And we've been making strong and continuous arguments to China about why those sorts of regulatory decisions, hitting a number of different Australian industries are unwarranted and based on, frankly, false or misleading evidence or accusations. But this is a trade deal that is important because, as you say, it's a 15-nation trade agreement, and at the centre of it are the 10 South East Asian economies, who when you put them together, are our second largest trading partner collectively and are some of the strongest growth potential in terms of new export, new economic opportunities. And so we're in this very much because of the leadership of the ASEAN nations and our desire to make sure that we support them as being seen through not only to the prosperity of our region, but also to the peace and stability of our region.

Ben Fordham: Well, when you talk about new opportunities, we've already got individual trade deals with each of these countries, and with some of them we've got multiple trade deals. So we're already trading.

Simon Birmingham: You're right. So, there's two big things that this deal does. One is in terms of for exporters of goods out into the region, they have now a single platform of rules and agreements to be able to operate across the different countries. At present, it's quite a network. This gives them a much simplified approach in terms of how they get preferential access into those markets across different countries at the same time. The other is in terms of services exporters, so if you're an architectural service firm or engineering, aged care, health services or the like, who increasingly try to export their services and provide services in different countries, they get a whole lot of extra access under these agreements. So, yes, our old style sort of trade agreements gave the goods better access into these markets, that it will be easier to work across multiple countries for our exporters. And our services now get to operate on a platform that is more like what our goods exporters have had for a number of years. And, you know, these deals have delivered big gains for Australia's economy and exporters over recent years. We've now recorded some 33 months in a row as a country where we have exported more as a nation than we import. And that's been a huge driver for jobs across the economy.

Ben Fordham: Okay. You've been trying to contact your counterpart in China all year to talk about trade issues and they won't even pick up the phone. And now former prime minister John Howard is today urging Scott Morrison to seek out a face to face meeting with the Chinese President, Xi Jinping. We wouldn't knock back advice like that from Mr Howard?

Simon Birmingham: We wouldn't, and we would welcome such dialogue were China to agree to it. This is the point, Ben, Australia is willing to come to the table. We've made that very clear. We're not willing to compromise on our values or our interests, of course they will always remain paramount. But we have had a good, mutually beneficial relationship with China on a range of levels, including trade and the economy. And we will happily sit and have that proper dialogue at a ministerial or a prime ministerial level. The ball is very much in China's court, though, to be willing to sit down and engage in such a mature exchange.

Ben Fordham: We're talking to the Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham. Before I let you go, just one question to you. As a South Australian, you'd be concerned to learn that after seven months of no community transmission in South Australia, there's a fresh cluster and 17 new cases.

Simon Birmingham: And this is very concerning, Ben. Look, I'm pleased at the fact that the South Australian authorities seem to have acted very quickly from one case yesterday. They have spanned out their network of contact tracing and testing extensively. And obviously that they've yielded and shown up these 17 associated cases. This is going to be a real test of the contact tracing and isolating provisions here in SA, and it's a reminder that everybody, wherever you live across the country, if you've got the slightest of symptoms, go and get tested, because that is essential to how we get this thing under control. We can't pretend that the borders alone provide all of the barriers or protections in the world. New South Wales had an instance earlier this year in relation to its hotel quarantine and somebody testing positive out of the service providers there. Victoria, of course, has had the very poorly handled big spread that came out of their hotel quarantine system. SA now again facing something out of the hotel quarantine system. We hope that they can get it under control here and it's crucial that they do. But it's a reminder to all that there are risks in bringing Australians back from overseas, it's why the hotel quarantine is so important, but it's also so important that anybody who has the slightest of symptoms needs to get tested so that we can maintain that testing, tracing and isolating ritual that has kept New South Wales and other states safe to date. And hopefully, SA can stand up to the challenge as well on this very serious occasion.

Ben Fordham: Fingers crossed for you and everyone in Adelaide. Thanks for your time, Minister.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Ben. Cheers.

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