Interview on Radio National, AM, with Sabra Lane

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: US-China trade tariffs; Australia’s RCEP trade negotiations; Dr Yang Hengjun.
02 August 2019

Sabra Lane: The Trump trade tweets come at a very awkward time for Australia's Trade Minister Simon Birmingham. Senator Birmingham is in China this morning for crucial talks on negotiating a new Regional Comprehensive Trade Pact, that's officially what it's called. The Senator is the first federal minister to visit China since the Morrison Government's re-election, and comes amid ongoing tensions between the two nations over the Asian step-up policy by Australia and Australia's decision to ban Chinese company Huawei from the 5G rollout. Senator Birmingham joined me a short time ago.

[Excerpt]

Sabra Lane:Senator Birmingham welcome to AM. President Trump has announced this morning that the US will impose new tariffs on China in a month. What will the impact of that be?

Simon Birmingham:Sabra, this is a disappointing potential escalation in the trade disputes. We know that global economic growth is already slower thanks to a slowdown in global trading levels, and this would potentially further slowdown those global trade levels, and potentially have a further damaging impact on global economic growth. And it only reinforces the critical importance of the talks that I'm having here in Beijing, on behalf of Morrison Government, to advance at least our regional trade agenda as a real counterbalance to the increased protectionism elsewhere.

Sabra Lane:This is an escalation of the trade war. How will it affect Australia?

Simon Birmingham:Well what we've seen is that global trade growth has slowed down and that's slowed down global economic growth. There may be some short term opportunities were tariffs to be increased - as President Trump has announced - because it could shift purchasing decisions elsewhere around the globe. But overall, this type of action has proven to hurt the global economy and that's something that we have urged parties to desist from. We are at least encouraged that talks will continue. Hopefully those talks may avert the implementation of this announcement, and we can see some resolution within the next month.

Sabra Lane:Your visit to China has been viewed by some as a chance to reset the trade relationship between China and Australia. How will you do that?

Simon Birmingham:I think firstly it's important to note that our trade relationship remains incredibly strong. China is Australia's largest two-way trading partner. Last year, our trade was at record levels, and we have seen nothing but growth monthly this year in terms of the extent of Australia's trade success. We've recorded record trade surpluses during a number of the months this year, and that's really a testament to the businesses and the cooperation that we see at many diverse levels between Australia and China. And what we want to do is build on that through this Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, which brings together 16 regional economies and nations, and really is an opportunity for us to take agreements that our government put in place, such as the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, and shift them into a sphere of much deeper regional integration and cooperation with Australia and China both as leaders in that process.

Sabra Lane:Will you have a formal one-on-one meeting with your Chinese counterpart? And will you talk with them about the recent go-slow with our iron ore exports?

Simon Birmingham:We obviously spend quite a lot of time in the negotiating room together as part of the RCEP negotiations, and I'm sure there will be an opportunity for us to have a discussion about some matters privately as part of those negotiations, on the sidelines as such. What we want to do is make sure that we get some answers around what additional processing and environmental protection or checks are occurring, so that we can be confident that our businesses can plan around that. We've seen many shipments processed, but we do see some occasional continued delays. We stressed the need for non-discrimination in the application of any checks. And China has, of course, publicly and privately assured us that this is not being done on a discriminatory basis, but we do want to make sure that our producers and their customers here in China can understand what's happening and have certainty so that they can operate as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Sabra Lane:How likely is it that China will cooperate on these issues given the Coalition's decision to ban Huawei from the 5G rollout? China's been pretty unhappy about that.

Simon Birmingham:Look, we will continue to work to make sure the economic, the trade relationship that is in a very good position. As I said at the outset, we had record levels of trade last year and we've month-on a monthly basis continue to have great results this year and we'll continue to work hard and to make sure that that aspect of the relationship, and the many other areas of cooperation, are as positive as possible. Last night, our embassy hosted a function, an event that brought together investors, researchers, those representing educational institutions, cultural exchange, as well as those engaged in the trade relationship. And it shows that the Australia-China relationship is actually much deeper and more cooperative than sometimes our media gives it credit for.

Sabra Lane:You are, as you've mentioned, you're in China to talk about this new regional co-operative trade pact. How confident are you that a deal can actually be done by the end of the year?

Simon Birmingham:I think there's real momentum. There is political will across the 16 nations. This is an exciting agreement, it can be quite transformative for our Asian region and cement our region as a continued global economic leader. And what it will really do is build on the foundations that our Government has laid from Australia's perspective, with trade deals been put in place with China, Japan, Korea during the time of the Liberal National Government, which have helped to see enormous export growth for Australia. Enormous, therefore jobs growth in Australia, and what we now want to do is take the next step by having an integrated regional agreement, that across the 10 ASEAN nations, plus China, Japan, Korea, plus India, as well as New Zealand and ourselves, then represents close to half the world's population, around one third of global GDP. And that's an enormous opportunity for Australia in substance, in terms of trading and investment opportunities, as well as symbolically demonstrating to the rest of the world that our region will not be deterred by the type of protectionism that we may see emerging elsewhere.

Sabra Lane:The ongoing detention of Yang Hengjun. Will you raise that with the Chinese while you're there?

Simon Birmingham:Look, if the opportunity presents itself, then obviously I will reinforce the messages that the Foreign Minister Marise Payne and our officials have given in relation to Dr Yang, and we've requested his case to be treated fairly and transparently, and importantly, that he be granted immediate access to his lawyers.

Sabra Lane:Senator, thanks for joining AM this morning.

Simon Birmingham:My pleasure.

[End of excerpt]

Sabra Lane:That's Australia's Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.

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