18 May 2023

Deborah Knight, Host: But big news, the timber trade between Australia and China will resume effective from today. China has announced that yes, the door is open again. It's been shut since 2020 for the $1.6 billion timber trade with China. The Assistant Minister for Trade, Tim Ayres is on the line for us now. Tim, this is good news.

Tim Ayres, Assistant Trade Minister and Assistant Manufacturing Minister: It is good news, Deb. I'm just delighted to be here talking about that and not singing on your karaoke.

Deborah Knight: Careful. You never know. The interview is not over yet. The day is but young.

Assistant Minister: If you'd been running the tape when Islands In The Stream was on, you would have got me red-handed.

Deborah Knight: Well, we might. We'll never know. But look, let's talk about timber, because it's worth a pretty penny. $1.6 billion.

Assistant Minister: Well, this does represent some important progress in the government's work at stabilising the trade relationship, removing trade impediments and getting trade with China back to normal. I'm pleased to see the announcement. I'll follow the progress of this through very carefully, to see that it's followed through and followed through with deliveries of Australian timber.

Deborah Knight: Well, they're saying from today, effective from today, according to the Chinese Ambassador to Canberra.

Assistant Minister: It’s a very - I'm very pleased with the announcement.

Deborah Knight: So, did you expect this to come, or was it a surprise?

Assistant Minister: Well, it follows some careful work at official level and at ministerial level. Of course, Trade Minister Don Farrell has just returned from advocating over these issues from Beijing last week.

Deborah Knight: And is this a direct result of that?

Assistant Minister: Well, it's part of the progression of work that we have been, as a government, really carefully working through. You'll notice, Deb, that we haven't been overhyping this, using florid rhetoric to describe what's going on. We are just, in a systematic way, in the national interest, working through these issues.
And the team from the Australian government, officials and at ministerial level, led by Don Farrell, have been working through all of this. I think I was on your show some weeks ago talking about the issues around barley and wine, and we're carefully working through those issues as well.

Deborah Knight: So, will they be next? What are we expecting? Because obviously, barley and wine, they still have sanctions, and we still have problems getting those industries and that sector back up to scratch. What do you expect will be next?

Assistant Minister: Well, we're certainly not in a position where we can say that trade has returned to normal. It is good to see progress in some of these areas with coal, with timber. You know, it's a $1.6 billion industry exporting to China, $1.6 billion worth of Australian exports, and there's jobs in regional areas that depend on a strong export market for Australian timber, particularly value-added timber products. We are going to keep pursuing these issues. There's progress that still needs to be made in barley and wine in particular. And, of course, for some of our seafood exports.

Deborah Knight: Yeah, what do you make of these supposed Australian lobsters that are being sold in China? The blue lobsters, when they're not Australian, they're not lobsters, they're just yabbies.

Assistant Minister: What it really clearly demonstrates - I'm not sure of the veracity of that story, I read it just like you did this morning. What it really clearly demonstrates is that, number one, there is a really strong market for Australian lobsters, high quality, best lobsters in the world in the Chinese market.

Number two, it's hurting Chinese consumers. There is a strong demand, they are not getting access to high quality product. We are just going to keep patiently, carefully, determinedly advocating over these issues in the national interest and in the interest of those sectors that have been most severely affected.

Deborah Knight: And the claims that shut the timber trade down, quarantine claims that we weren't up to scratch with the customs and quarantine, that was all complete humbug, wasn't it?

Assistant Minister: Well, the Ambassador said that those issues have been resolved and all I can say is -

Deborah Knight: But they weren't issues to begin with, were they?

Assistant Minister: Well, the claims were made. Obviously, this has not been a normal situation and we have -

Deborah Knight: But come on, your government has said you're not going to hold back when it comes to China. You're not going to grovel and snivel, and you'll put it like it is. I mean, the plain fact is they got it wrong, didn't they? I mean, surely, we can have trade partners, but we can say it straight.

Assistant Minister: We absolutely do not believe, on the Australian side, that there are any biosecurity or other issues in relation to Australian timber. We have maintained that position very strongly all of the way through and I'm very pleased, Deb, that that claim has stopped being made and that Australian timber will be arriving in hardware shops and in construction in China. It's a good development. I'm not going to spend too much time looking over my shoulder at what's being said or what's being done. Our focus is on the future, getting back to a stable trading relationship, one where the rules are respected, where the rules are respected, whether there is proper compliance and confidence and that we can continue to export with confidence to Chinese markets.

Deborah Knight: Let's hope that's the first step in many, thank you so much for joining us. I won't put you through karaoke, you're off that - you're okay today. You're free.

Assistant Minister: Thank you Deb, I’m very pleased about that, too.

Deborah Knight: Good on you. Tim Ayres the Assistant Minister for Trade.