ABC News Afternoon Briefing

25 August 2023


Stephanie Borys: Now, while China has scrapped tariffs on Australian barley in recent weeks, tariffs do remain on Australian wine. The Federal Government is keen to see our reds and whites back in China, but at the moment there's no timeline on when and if that will occur. Assistant Minister for Trade Tim Ayres is in India, and earlier today he met with his Chinese counterpart and then joined us here on Afternoon Briefing. 


Tim Ayres, thank you for joining us all the way from India. You've had a busy morning meeting with your Chinese counterpart. Just what exactly did you discuss?


Tim Ayres, Assistant Trade Minister: Well, of course, it was an opportunity here in Jaipur, India, at the G20 to meet with Vice Minister Wang Shouwen and to press the case for more progress in terms of removing China's impediments to some categories of Australian trade. 


We have made progress over the course of the last twelve months in some areas. We've made progress recently in barley, timber, coal, a range of these product areas where China has imposed impediments in front of Australian exports. There is still some progress to make before we can say that trade between Australia and China has returned to normal. And, of course, this was an opportunity for me to press the case in Australia's national interest, for more work to occur to make sure those impediments are removed.


Stephanie Borys: Wine in particular is a sticking point. Were you given any indication as to a timeline as to when this may be, can be overturned, and Australian wine is welcomed back into China?


Assistant Minister: Well, as your viewers would know, Australia has made an application at the World Trade Organization against the impediments that have been put in place in front of Australian wine, we will proceed with that application. It is, of course, open to China and Australia to take the same approach in terms of wine as was agreed between Trade Minister Don Farrell and the Chinese Minister Wang Wentao earlier this year. It is open to China and Australia to do that, but it will require agreement to do that. At this stage we are going to press on with our WTO dispute in the interests of the Australian wine industry and the economy more broadly, and we're open to discussions with China to develop an agreed approach to that. And I've continued to press the case for that approach today here in Jaipur.


Stephanie Borys: During this meeting I appreciate you were talking trade, but did you bring up the plight of Australian journalist Cheng Lei? The Australian Government has made it very clear they're concerned for her welfare. And we've heard that the Australian Government says it will bring up this situation when and if it’s possible. Was that discussed today?


Assistant Minister: It certainly was. It's discussed at ministerial level, certainly in all of my engagements and my colleagues' engagements, this is a priority. What we saw just a few weeks ago in terms of the position that Australian Cheng Lei is in is heartbreaking. This Australian should be reunited with her children. It's one of a number of consular cases that are raised regularly and directly. As I said, our job here is to - in the Australian national interest - press the case. Whether it's on these trade issues or these consular issues, or other issues in the relationship, do it directly. And that is the approach that the Albanese Government has taken, and it's certainly the approach I took in my meeting with Vice Minister Wang Shouwen this morning.


Stephanie Borys: And how was that received, in terms of what you said?


Assistant Minister: Well, I think the truth is, Steph, that I'm in a position to say that I raised it. I raised it directly, and I raised it in the same way that my Ministerial colleagues have done when they have had these engagements. It is not, I think, helpful to go into detail about the response. We have a job to do here, to act in the national interest, and in this case, in the best interests of this young Australian and her and her family in the Australian national interest. We've done that, and we'll continue to do it.


Stephanie Borys: Just briefly, before I let you go, there have been other meetings you've been part of, of course, meeting with the European Commission as well. The EU Trade Agreement - I know the Australian government says that, you know, it offers too little, it asks too much. Was there any idea of movement, timelines on that situation today?


Assistant Minister: There needs to be more progress in terms of access for key agricultural products. I want to see, and the negotiations led by Don Farrell - Don Farrell is determined to strike a deal that is in the Australia‘s national interest. We need to see more progress in agriculture. And I made that case very plain and very direct to my colleagues in the European Union over the course of the last day and a half.


Stephanie Borys: More negotiations to be had by the sounds of things. Tim Ayres, thank you so much for your time and for joining us all the way from India.


Assistant Minister: Thanks Steph.