SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG
LEADER OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE SENATE
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Subjects: Australian Government’s agreement with China on pathway towards lifting duties on Australian barley; Prime Minister’s attendance at NATO summit; Australia’s relationship with China.
SARAH ABO, HOST: Well, it is the end of China’s three-year trade war on Aussie farmers – that could be in sight. That’s the hope as the federal government looks to strike a new trade deal that could see tariffs on barley lifted.
KARL STEFANOVIC, HOST: There are a lot of ‘coulds’. The move signals another step forward in Australia’s push to smooth over relations after the AUKUS agreement incited criticism from Beijing.
Let’s bring in Foreign Minister and Acting Prime Minister, Penny Wong. Good morning to you, Penny.
PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Good morning to you both.
STEFANOVIC: Reports first up this morning – the PM has pulled out of NATO. Is that true? Have you heard that, and why would he have done that?
FOREIGN MINISTER: You know, I’m Acting Prime Minister, but I will leave the real Prime Minister’s diary to him, Karl, if that’s okay.
STEFANOVIC: Just wanted to – it’s in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning. You haven’t heard anything further?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, no, and, you know, he’s on leave, and I’m sure will, you know, make an announcement about his forthcoming trips in due course.
STEFANOVIC: All right. The situation with China this morning and exports, because it does feel like it’s all on China’s terms. Is anything confirmed at all?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, Karl, we want these trade impediments removed. We’ve said they’re not justified, and we think it’s in both countries’ interests for them to be removed. And we’re trying to remove them, we’re working to remove them, as quickly as possible. So we think it’s a good thing that China has offered to speed up its review of these tariffs, of these duties on Australian barley, and in return for that we have suspended our current dispute before the World Trade Organization. This is all about working to try and resolve this more quickly because, of course, Australian barley growers and communities that depend on barley would welcome a return of access to the Chinese market.
ABO: As Karl says, I mean, this does seem like it’s on China’s terms. It’s hard to look beyond this just being lip service. I mean, a promise to speed up the process isn’t a promise that they’re going to agree to anything that we want.
FOREIGN MINISTER: You know, this is a negotiation. And I would say to you the fact that China has offered to expedite it would suggest it’s not – it’s on agreed terms. You know, Australia has its rights to continue the dispute in the World Trade Organization, and we will continue it if there isn’t a resolution. But what I would say is what I said to the former Foreign Minister Wang Yi – I said it’s in both our countries’ interests for these to be removed. The Chinese market wants access to high-quality Australian product, in this case high-quality Australian barley.
STEFANOVIC: The thing is we’ve just heard from a Victorian grain producer and she said it’s very exciting, but they also did a whole lot of dough last time around. The problem is, there are never guarantees with this situation with China, and at any point they can just shut things down again.
FOREIGN MINISTER: Look, that’s a good point. The point is that we’re not going back to where we were fifteen years ago. We know that we want a more stable relationship with China, but we know we’re not going to be able to continue to separate our economic and our strategic relationship. So what does that mean? It means Australian producers, whether of barley or wine, are going to have to look to diversify markets, and that’s one of the things the government is working on with industry, is to continue to diversify markets. And many industries have been really flexible, really innovative in looking for alternative markets as these trade impediments have been in place. And that’s a good thing. It’s about making sure we’re more resilient. But we look forward to China, you know, reviewing these and hopefully getting access back to the Chinese market for Australian barley growers.
ABO: We get that. That’s probably the issue, though, for Australian growers, is that they are having to diversify, but there’s so much uncertainty that comes with it. I mean, the grain grower we just spoke to went from barley to other grains. If they plant the wrong seeds, then they could be out of pocket again. It just keeps adding up, and then as you rightly point out, then there’s the wine market and then obviously there’s seafood, beef – I mean, the list just goes on.
FOREIGN MINISTER: And we’ve been clear – we don’t believe the Australian impediments are justified. And it’s a reminder of why, you know, we need trade rules which are predictable, which are consistent. And that’s why Australia will always keep working at the – for the World Trade Organization to remain, you know, the organisation which enables global trade to proceed in an orderly and predictable way.
STEFANOVIC: It’s an odd dance, isn’t it, a delicate dance, bolstering your military against your main trading partner?
FOREIGN MINISTER: You know, the point I’ve made both privately and publicly is you can, we want a relationship with China where we both make wise choices which safeguard and protect our national interests but we keep engaging. So that means there are areas where we are going to disagree, and that will be the case. It’s about how we handle those disagreements. So, we’ve made clear we will engage in our national interests, we will cooperate where we can and disagree where we must, but keep engaging in our national interests. And that’s really the approach the government’s taken since we were elected.
STEFANOVIC: Penny, it does feel a little Shakespearean, this announcement – much ado about nothing?
FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, it’s step by step, isn’t it, Karl? You know, I’m not here with bells and whistles. It’s step by step, and I think that’s the only way we’re going to make progress here.
STEFANOVIC: Why is the Prime Minister taking leave? You never take leave. I mean, has he got a bit soft?
ABO: You don’t rest.
FOREIGN MINISTER: That’s not true – I do take leave. But he didn’t take any leave over Christmas. So, you know, it’s about time. I said to him, “You need to go and have a break, you’re going to drive us all crazy.”
STEFANOVIC: He’s not going to Hawaii, is he?
FOREIGN MINISTER: I think that might be off the holiday list for a little while, don’t you reckon?
STEFANOVIC: Okay, good on you, Penny. Good to talk to you.
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