ABC News, Afternoon Briefing

05 June 2023


Greg Jennett, Host: All right, let's head to London now. And as we've indicated already, Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres is there for talks on what's been a pivotal moment in Australia's push for expanded access in, multiple places really - Europe, it’s ongoing in China. Tim Ayres is at the Smithfield Meat Market in London.

Good morning to you, Senator Ayers. I think you've been out shopping. Is it too early for you to be discovering lower tariff, easier access Australian product there?

Tim Ayres, Assistant Trade Minister and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing: No, Greg, it's absolutely terrific to come on the show from the Smithfield Meat Markets. It's a pretty busy scene, as you can see behind me. These markets in central London have been selling and processing meat for 1000 years and they do sell some Australian beef and lamb. But after the entry into force of this agreement, they're going to be selling a lot more of it. I've spoken to retailers and wholesalers here, one of whom told me after entry into force, he will be having a 40-foot-long container of Australian beef and lamb arriving in the UK every week after entry into force of this agreement. So, it's a good news story for Australian agriculture, but a good news story more broadly for deepening and modernising the trade and economic relations between the two countries.

Greg Jennett: And what's driving that interest? Apart from the developments on tariff, there are multiple places that merchants, butchers, whatever you call them there, could source this beef. Why are they looking to bring it in on that scale from somewhere right across the other side of the globe? It can't purely be the tariff aspect, is it?

Assistant Minister: Well, it's Australian beef and lamb, Australian seafood, high quality, good sustainability practices. Why wouldn't you want Australian beef on your plate in the United Kingdom, or indeed in Europe? We're really pleased with the interest there's been in Australian agricultural products here in the UK. It's a testament to the work that's gone into not just negotiating this agreement, also the work of the government making sure that we proceed into entry into force and all the work that's going to be done over the coming months and years by Australian officials making sure that businesses got access to these markets over here in what has really been a very significant, very significant development for Australian agricultural access into this market.

Greg Jennett: Yeah. So, that's developing access to a market with an agreement already in place. I think in the next couple of days you're going to be meeting up with Don Farrell across the channel. He's, of course, trying to progress the EU Free Trade Agreement. There seem more impediments to getting that one across the line. Do you agree that these geographical indications, the place names associated with products, are going to be a major stumbling block? Particularly for Prosecco makers here in Australia, very difficult to win.

Assistant Minister: Well, there's a series of challenging issues that always come at the end of any Free Trade Agreement negotiation, and in particular, the European agreement is an important agreement for Australia. It is, of course, a big market, 400 million Europeans, and we are determined to make sure that we secure an agreement here that is in the national interest and delivers a commercially meaningful outcome for Australian agriculture, in particular. There are broad benefits of both the UK FTA after its entry into force and a prospective EU FTA broadly across the economy in the services sector in terms of access for Australian workers to come over here and work for two or three years in the case of the UK FTA. But we are determined to make sure that we grasp this opportunity to secure a commercially meaningful outcome for Australian agriculture and we'll take the time that is necessary to secure the right deal, the right deal in the Australian national interest.

Greg Jennett: Yeah, many times more complicated in the case of Europe. Can I take you to China, which has been an ongoing piece of work for the government, you and Don Farrell included? Are we seeing a further softening of China's position on Australian imports, specifically around fruits, including citrus and stone fruits? Do you have confirmation, through the Department, that China is looking more favourably on their admission into their markets?

Assistant Minister: Well, yes, a series of Australian fruit processing regions on the list is a good step forward. That is consistent with the hard work that has been going in, not just at Ministerial level, as you pointed out, Greg, but Australian officials working assiduously on stabilising the relationship more broadly, but returning Australian-China trade to normal. Now, there is, of course, still some way to go. We've got to see more progress in terms of barley, wine, seafood, a series of other Australian products. But of course, as we've seen with this fruit announcement, but also in the announcement around timber following Minister Don Farrell's latest engagement with the Chinese government and his counterpart Wang Wentao these are all welcome developments, but of course there is still plenty of work to do and plenty more progress that needs to be made before we can say that this trading relationship has returned to normal.

Greg Jennett: Do you see any potential pollutants or irritants towards this progress coming in from the security side of relations with Beijing? It won't have escaped your attention, Tim Ayres, that at the same time Australia is trying to improve its bilateral trade ties with China. There was a brush in the South China Sea in the last 48 hours or so between a Chinese warship and a US Navy Destroyer, which is causing ties to brittle. Do you see that as a potential impediment towards the restoration of trade ties?

Assistant Minister: Well, I think the Prime Minister made the point over the course of the weekend that dialogue is just so important. That the Australian voice, championing dialogue and engagement is absolutely vital to securing peace and stability in the region. And we need to see more dialogue, more dialogue at leader level across the region. More dialogue at official level and in my own area of trade, dialogue at Ministerial level is very welcome. Australian officials will keep working hard at these issues and, of course, I think as I said on your program before, I really count progress in terms of Australian bulk carriers turning up to Chinese ports and offloading product through Chinese customs in the normal way and Australian containers, container ships doing the same thing. These trade impediments have not been in the interest of Australian exporters, but they haven't been in the interest of Chinese consumers either.

Greg Jennett: But do you see that relationship as brittle still to this point because of the security problems that the noise that comes in from the side, around South China Sea, in this case the US and its difficulties?

Assistant Minister: Well, there are going to be challenges from time to time in a relationship in a region of the world where there's increasing contest and we have to pay careful attention to what is in the Australian national interest here and in the region's interests. That does mean dealing carefully, thoughtfully in the national interest with the security and broader challenges, but also in the trade area, carefully and consistently and calmly advocating the Australian national interest. And I think that's what you've seen the government doing over the course of the last twelve months, is really paying attention to acting in the national interest, to dealing with these questions on their merits, and prosecuting the case, as I say in the area that I have some responsibility for, for Australian exporters more broadly, and as you're pointing to the broader security and strategic relationships.

Greg Jennett: And I'm sure that will occupy your attention for quite some time, but we'll let you go Tim Ayres, thanks for joining us live, but still enough time to go and grab yourself a T-bone or some such.

Assistant Minister: I might be able to get a steak sandwich or something out of here. I hope it's not too busy and noisy a scene for your listeners in the background, Greg, but I've been here since 5:00 this morning and it's a very vibrant, very vibrant scene and it's terrific to see so much Australian product on the shelves.

Greg Jennett: Very vibrant and we've enjoyed having a discussion in that noisy setting. Tim Ayres, thanks again.

Assistant Minister: Good on you, Greg.