Interview on ABC Ballarat, Country Hour (Vic), with Nikolai Beilharz

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: EU trade deal.
20 November 2019

Nikolai Beilharz: To start today though, the Federal Trade Minister says that some farm lobby groups appear to be confused about what terms are under threat under a potential EU trade deal. As part of that deal, geographic indicators which restrict certain product names from being used are being considered. The most famous example of this, of course, is champagne where only wine produced in that region of France can be called champagne. All others have to be called sparkling wine.

Well, the dairy sector has been voicing its concern about losing access to some names, with the United Dairy Farmers of Victoria saying that feta, halloumi and parmesan are under threat. But the Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says that's not entirely correct.

[Excerpt]

Simon Birmingham: It's important to be accurate in terms of what it is the EU is seeking, and there were some terms cited in yesterday's program such as halloumi, which are not on the EU list of terms that they're seeking, and many terms in fact are not sought to be protected by the EU — terms such as camembert, brie, pecorino, gouda — all of those are not on the EU list. And so, even if we were to accept the EU's list, which we're a long way off doing, producers would still be able to use all of those terms. But there are some sensitive ones such as feta and parmesan. And so there are areas where I understand that there is particular concern and that's why we've been out there engaging with dairy industry, with cheese makers, making sure there’s a very transparent process because we want to put up the best possible fight to get the best possible deal for all parts of Australian agriculture and business as part of securing a trade agreement with the European Union.

It's a long list, but most of them are really quite technical terms. So to take mozzarella, for example. Mozzarella is not on the EU’s list but Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is; camembert’s not, but Camembert de Normandie is. So, what you can see there is that for many of them, the EU has gone after what are quite genuinely geographical indications that link back to a specific region in Italy or in France. Whereas on terms like feta and parmesan, that's where we have the concern because they’re just the generic terms that are cited.

Nikolai Beilharz: Paul Mumford has also said that he believes the potential changes would cost him as much as $30,000 in terms of relabeling costs and things like that. Is it inevitable that farmers, some farmers, will have to pay for some of these proposed changes?

Simon Birmingham: No. Nothing's inevitable at present because we're still in negotiations with the European Union and the very sensitive issues, I expect, will be argued out in the last stages of the negotiations. But what we're doing at present is gathering up all of the evidence to make sure we can put the strongest case to the EU as to why we can't move on some of their demands for geographical indications, but also, why we expect them to move in terms of reducing tariffs, increasing or eliminating quotas, so that farmers can get more produce into the EU without the type of trade barriers they currently face.

Nikolai Beilharz: We have seen the UDV and groups like the Victorian Farmers Federation as well lobbying quite strongly to protect some of those names. Is it of concern to you that they're not getting all the terminologies and the correct phrases right if they're the ones that are lobbying?

Simon Birmingham: We've run many different seminars. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has. I’ve met with Dairy Australia, attended the WestVic Dairy AGM, undertaking consultations and visits with dairy producers and cheese makers across multiple states. And it's important that, I think, the industry bodies do take the time to accurately represent what is requested by the EU. There's enough within that for us to be concerned about and to focus on and to ensure that we come up with a good outcome for Australia's dairy industry without heightening the fears of farmers or producers by speculating on terms that aren't even on the EU's list of demands.

Nikolai Beilharz: So is the UDV more worried than it should be?

Simon Birmingham: Well, obviously there are degrees of concern created when you're talking about a term like halloumi, which is not on the list. And so- that's why I want to be really clear and reassure producers that they ought to take a look at the list that's on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website. They'll see from that that the vast majority of the terms sought would be if no commercial interests to Australian producers. But there are a few that we appreciate that are and that's why we're gathering up all the possible evidence there so that when I sit down for those final stages of negotiations with the EU, I've got the best possible armoury to defend our industry but also advance our interests.

Nikolai Beilharz: And so, on that note, what happens from here? How close do you think the proposed list at the moment is to the final list?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we haven't agreed that we will protect any geographical indications at this stage. So whether there is a final list depends on how the negotiations with the EU go, and they're going to have to put on the table very good improvements in terms of market access for Australian farmers and Australian industry into the EU for us to be entertaining some of their demands as part of this process. But it's a genuine negotiation and we go into it because we know that these types of trade deals ultimately have benefited Australia's farmers and industry. We've seen huge growth in our exports into Japan, Korea, China — increasingly now, as a result of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All of those places that we've done trade agreements with. Our farmers, businesses have stepped up to the plate and are kicking goals in terms of growing our exports and we want to see the same opportunity created in the European Union. But we want to do it in a way that is not to the detriment of the dairy sector or anybody else and that's why we're going through this very transparent process; and why we're gathering up the evidence to make sure that as we move through negotiations next year, we are well-placed to make sure we defend and advance all areas of Australian interest.

[End of excerpt]

Nikolai Beilharz: That was the Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.

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