Press Conference, Adelaide

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Australian coal exports to China.
22 February 2019

Simon Birmingham: Australia and China have a very important economic relationship. A very important economic and trading relationship. We have a trade relationship that is beneficial to both our nations and important to both our nations, and I trust and believe is valued by both of our nations. In the recent day or so we've seen increased speculation about whether there are new barriers to trade between Australia and China, particularly in relation to coal. I want to provide reassurance that we have no basis to believe that there is a ban on Australian coal exports into China, or into any port in China. We do understand that China applies in some locations, import restrictions and quotas in relation to the volume of coal, and the application of those quotas combined with different testing in terms of quality assurance of products and environmental testing and standards, may be slowing down the processing of coal in certain ports across China. We do not believe this is isolated to Australia but may be and is likely to be applicable to other coal exporters into China as well.

These are matters we are seeking to get as much information and clarity from Chinese authorities as possible. For that reason, I've been in touch and working with Australia's embassy in Beijing, our Foreign Affairs and Trade officials have been working with the Chinese Embassy in Canberra, and of course we are working closely with Australian industry and particularly our coal exporters in terms of their experiences, their knowledge and understanding of what is happening within the marketplace. We do need to keep in perspective, that the growth of our trade with China, as in indeed our growth in trade overall, has been of significant proportions in recent years. The port that has been the centre of particular attention, transfers significant volumes of Australian coal, but still less than half the growth we experienced in the value of Australia's coal trade with China in the last year alone. That demonstrates just how significant our trade with China is. How significant the growth in our trade in coal with China has been, and the fact that we should keep some perspective that the issues that we are dealing with are serious, they're important and we are working as hard as we can to get clarity around the exact policy positions that China is applying, to ensure that we can give as much confidence and certainty to Australian coal companies as is possible. But equally, we are confident that the measures being put in place are not discriminatory towards Australia and they are not measures targeted at us, but indeed, that they are measures we will continue to work with, because they are consistent in part of the history we have seen over recent times. This is not the first occasion, where Australian coal exports to China have slowed in terms of the pace at which they are processed or assessed and allowed into the country. And where we have seen that slow before, we've equally then seen a very quick pick-up occur subsequently. With that subsequent quick pick-up, in the final quarter of last, we saw new records hit in terms of the volume and value of coal imports into China. So we can be confident as a country, that our relationship we believe is strong, that our ability to work through these issues is strong, and the economic ties we have, valued as they are by both parties, will continue to be strong into the future.

Journalist: Minister, how confident are you that this isn't in relation to Australia's Huawei decision?

Simon Birmingham: We believe and understand that these are simple import quotas, consistent with the likes that China has applied before that China continues to apply, that apply equally to all countries.

Journalist: So you don't think the two are related?

Simon Birmingham: Our understanding is that these are matters that are being applied in a consistent way across all countries, and we expect and understand that the trade agreements that we have between Australia and China will continue to be consistently applied. And it's really unlikely and unhelpful to try to conflate other unrelated issues.

Journalist: How much progress do you feel like has been made in terms of finding out what exactly is going on here?

Simon Birmingham: Well the suggestions that there has been any type of ban only really first emerged yesterday, so we have had officials working on the task, I've been discussing this with Australia's ambassador to China, we've been engaging with the Chinese Embassy in Australia. We continue to talk and work closely with the Minerals Council of Australia, individual companies as well and we believe that more information is coming to light that does make it clear that yes, there are import quotas to deal with and for us to work through, but there is no reason at all why we cannot get clarity around those and provide sufficient confidence to Australian industry to continue trading into the future.

Journalist: Have you spoken with the Chinese Ambassador to Australia today?

Simon Birmingham: I've not, but our officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have been in touch and working with the Chinese embassy in Australia, as indeed as I said, I have spoken to Australia's ambassador in Beijing, who along with all of her officials in Beijing is working closely with Chinese counterparts.

Journalist: Are you confident that you will get an honest answer as to why exactly this is happening?

Simon Birmingham: We're looking to be reassured that these measures are being applied consistently to all coal exporting nations who are importing product into China. We believe that appears to be the case and we take that at face value and will continue to work as cooperatively as we can with Chinese authorities to make sure that Australia's high-quality coal exports that are important in many sectors of the Chinese economy can continue to be accessed by the Chinese economy for their growth, for their economic opportunity and prosperity.

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