Interview on ABC News Breakfast with Virginia Trioli and Michael Rowland

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: US-China trade tariffs, Australia’s trade relationship with China; Hong Kong developments.
02 August 2019

VirginiaTrioli: Moving fromretail trade to global trade, US President Donald Trump has announced that he'sgoing to impose new tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese productsfrom September. This announcement came after the latest round of bilateraltalks showing no sign of a breakthrough.

MichaelRowland: Our TradeMinister Simon Birmingham is in Beijing at the moment trying to make sureAustralia isn't caught in the crossfire. He joins us now. Minister, goodmorning.

SimonBirmingham: Goodmorning Michael.

MichaelRowland: How muchdo you fear this latest move by Donald Trump will complicate yourattempts to reach out to Chinese officials?

SimonBirmingham: Thisis a disappointing potential further development. We obviously hope that thetalks that ensue over the next month do see this threatening tariff increaseavoided. We have seen that from the previous escalation of tariffs andcounter-tariffs between the US and China, that has slowed global growth. Theslowing of global growth is bad news for everybody across the world, and so wereally do urge parties to continue their dialogue and hopefully to avert thisincrease.

And for Australia, and what we're doing here- yes, Michael?

MichaelRowland: Yes. Howmuch do you fear Australia is going to be collateral damage in this clearlyescalating trade war between China and the United States?

SimonBirmingham: Well,in short term horizons there may even be opportunities that occur as purchasingdecisions shift, as goods between two countries increase in price as the resultof tariffs being applied. But over the long term and even the medium term, whatwe've seen is that this trade war has hurt everybody around the world becauseit's slowed down the rate of export growth. And in slowing down the rate ofexport growth, it's slowed down the rate of global economic growth. That's theanalysis of the IMF and other international institutions, and so what we haveto do is, as well as urging the parties to talk and try to resolve theirdifferences, get on with insulating Australia as best we possibly can. And thatreally is the heart of the reason as to why I'm here in Beijing, having tradediscussions not just with China but indeed in total 16 nations includingAustralia and China coming together to talk about closer regional economiccooperation, creating a new trading bloc that can build on the successes ourgovernment had in establishing free trade agreements with China, Japan, Korea,others that we've done regionally such as Indonesia, all of which have helpedto underpin real growth in Australian exports which flows through to realgrowth in Australian jobs.

MichaelRowland: Okay.There is consumer concern about some of our raw material imports being held upin Chinese ports. Will you be raising that with Chinese officials?

SimonBirmingham: Ifthe opportunity's there, we'll seek further clarification around the thermalcoal exports from Australia into China and make sure that we better understandwhat is causing those delays. We'll reinforce the importance that that beapplied on a non-discriminatory basis, if there are additional checks orpolicies that are causing the delays. And what we want to do there is providecertainty to our exporters and to their Chinese customers so that we cancontinue to be as reliable a supplier of goods and products into China. Butit's important to understand our trading relationship is in an incredibly good position.The 2018 trade figures between Australian and China were at their highest levelever. They'd grown significantly off 2017, and through 2019 to date what we'veseen in our own trade data is that we continue to record record export volumes,record trade surpluses on a monthly basis in many of the months of this year.And we're going to keep working hard to ensure the relationship with China andwith all of our other regional partners is as strong as possible.

MichaelRowland: Thetrade relationship might be in a good condition, but still China continues todo things such as lock up Australian writer Yang Hengjun. Will you be raisingthat with Chinese officials to try to secure his release?

SimonBirmingham: Well,we have made many representations at diplomatic level as well as throughForeign Minister Payne making direct representations. And if the opportunity isthere of course I will reinforce the points that the Foreign Minister has madein her representations: that we expect him to be treated fairly, transparently,and importantly to be granted access to his lawyers.

MichaelRowland: You'rea senior minister. Shouldn't you not wait for the opportunity and put that onthe table in any talks you'll have with senior officials?

SimonBirmingham: WellI'm here for talks that are regional trade negotiations, so most of my timehere is going to be at the table not just with China but with all 16 nations atthe table. But if the opportunity is there in private dialogue, then of coursethat's when you take the opportunity to raise any of those mattes that are ofconcern. But we have to make sure that in all aspects of this relationship, wework constructively on the irritants and the problems that exist, but that wedon't overlook the fact that in many, many ways this relationship is as strongas it's ever been and especially in terms of trade, economic ties,people-to-people movements between our two countries. We have seen enormousadvances over recent years and we want to continue to advance thoseopportunities.

MichaelRowland: Okayand just finally speaking of irritants, the global community is certainlyirritated by the crackdown on free speech in Hong Kong. Are you concerned- oris the Australian Government concerned about reports of Chinese troops massingon the border of Hong Kong? And also there's this propaganda video releasedovernight by the PLA showing Chinese troops engaged in anti-riot exercises?

SimonBirmingham: HongKong is a very important partner to Australia. I personally signed last year anew trade agreement between Australia and Hong Kong. And that trade agreementis reflective of our recognition of the one country, two systems model thatapplies in relation to Hong Kong. We continue to urge for calm and restraint,and to monitor the developments in Hong Kong very closely.

MichaelRowland: TradeMinister Simon Birmingham, thanks for taking the time to speak to us thismorning.

SimonBirmingham: Thankyou Michael.

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