ABC Afternoon Briefing with Matt Doran

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Matt Doran, host: China has announced it’s lifting tariffs of more than 80 per cent on Australian barley, effective tomorrow. The sanctions had been in place since May 2020, effectively blocking Australian exports to China in what’s usually a trade worth more than $900 million a year. Australia had taken China to the World Trade Organization over the dispute, but those proceedings had been suspended a couple of months back in a bid to get the parties to the negotiating table. The Trade Minister is Don Farrell, and he joined us a short time ago from Adelaide.

Don Farrell, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing. This has been a long running dispute between Australia and China. What’s changed to get us to this position and this announcement from Beijing today?

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: The announcement from Beijing to remove the punitive tariffs on Australian barley is very welcome news. It’s welcome news for Australian barley producers, but it’s also welcome news for Chinese consumers who now have the benefit of wonderful Australian products. We’ve been working since we came to government to stabilise our relationship with China, with the aim of removing all of those trade impediments that had built up over the previous three years. This is just one more step along the way and there’s still more work to do. There are other products; wine, lobster, meat that we still need to get into the Chinese market. But this is a very positive development and I’m confident that the template that we used, namely the World Trade Organization, suspending our application, and then allowing the Chinese Government to reconsider their tariffs was the correct strategy.

Matt Doran: Do you believe the fact that China has backed down after all that pressure was put on Beijing, including through the World Trade Organization, shows that at its heart, this was an inherently political step by Beijing in the first instance to put these tariffs on Australian barley?

Minister for Trade: Matt, what it shows is that the persistence and the perseverance of the Albanese Labor Government, particularly the good work that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have done to stabilise our relationship with the Chinese Government, is working. We’ve still got more work to do. The job’s not finished, but we’re working our way through all of those impediments with a view to ensuring that we have free trade between China and Australia, so that our wonderful food and wine can get into the Chinese market, and Chinese consumers can have access to some of the finest food and wine in the world.

Matt Doran: I understand that you’re keen to talk about the perseverance and persistence, as you put it there, but I’m going to have another run up at this one. I’m asking specifically whether or not this is an indication of, I guess, politicking from Beijing that these tariffs were put in place, their position was untenable, and now China has realised it needs to pull back. Is that a fair assessment?

Minister for Trade: What has happened today is that the strategy of the Albanese Labor Government to stabilise our relationship, to ensure that wonderful food and wine that we produce, some of the best food and wine in the world, gets into the hands of Chinese consumers. That’s what we said we would do when we came to government. It’s been my job over the last 15 months to work through all of these difficult issues. That’s what we have done. It’s resulted in a successful outcome in respect of barley today.

I mean, look, we lost about a billion dollars a year worth of trade through the tariffs by the Chinese Government. We have the opportunity now of getting our product back into China. Of the $20 billion worth of trade impediments that we inherited from the former Morrison Government, we’re now down to about $2 billion worth of trade still to get back into China. So, we’re working through all of these issues, and we hope to use this barley dispute as a template for resolving the wine dispute. That’s obviously a very important issue for Australian wine producers, and we hope, as you say, the persistence and perseverance will result in a successful outcome for all of the remaining products that we haven’t been able to get back into the Chinese market.

Matt Doran: A very diplomatic response from you there, Don Farrell, clearly, because this wine dispute is still ongoing, so I’ll take that as read. Does this situation, this easing of the tariffs, does it clear the way for the Prime Minister to make a trip to China sometime this year?

Minister for Trade: Look, the Prime Minister has said all along that he would welcome the opportunity to visit China this year. I think this is just one step along the way of stabilising our relationship with China, and I very much would look forward to a visit by the Prime Minister to China.

Matt Doran: I know that you’re specifically the Trade Minister, but you do operate in the Foreign Affairs portfolio. Do you think it’s fair for the Prime Minister to make a trip like that when you still have people like Yang Hengjun and Cheng Lei locked up in Chinese jails?

Minister for Trade: We don’t apologise for raising issues of human rights with the Chinese Government, particularly as they relate to Australian citizens. We’ll continue to do that. The Foreign Minister does it, the Prime Minister does it, and I do it when I go to China. But, of course, it’s important from an Australian Government perspective that we stabilise this relationship with China, and I think a visit by our Prime Minister would be one further step along that very successful path.

Matt Doran: Well, Don Farrell, a busy afternoon for you. Thanks for joining us today.

Minister for Trade: Thanks Matt.

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