ABC News Afternoon Briefing

06 October 2023


Greg Jennett: The Assistant Trade Minister, Tim Ayres, joins us now, and hopefully, Tim Ayres, you might be able to answer some of those questions just quickly on Simon Birmingham's point. Left yourself a bit short in the upper ranks of the government in the Senate. How so?



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres:  Well, I think this is what the Americans call real inside baseball. If you think about what our viewers are interested in, it's what the government's doing to tackle the cost of living. What is the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister and until late last night, the Trade Minister doing in Australia's national interest in the United States last week and in China this week? This is the business of government; not how many Ministers are available to answer Senator Birmingham or any of the other questions that happened in question time today. It is a Senate only week. It's the Senate's time to shine. That is true, but I don't think people ought to get too carried away with themselves. We ought to focus on what's in the interests of Australians.



Greg Jennett: I will readily concede its very niche and I only went there, obviously, because.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: Well, we are in Canberra.



Greg Jennett: Simon took us there. Okay, all right. Looking at China then, Tim Ayres, in trade terms, how will we know if this visit has been a success?



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres:  Well, the purpose of the visit is for more dialogue and the Prime Minister, and the Foreign Minister has been very clear all the way through. I know the language is always the same language. It's deliberately consistent language in a calm and consistent way, in a very deliberate way. We've worked to advance the Australian national interest and the Prime Minister visiting China is an important step along the way.



Greg Jennett: And progress, right?



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres:  Well, progress has been made. Now, of course, these trade impediments, in the Australian view, should never have been imposed in the first place. But we have, over the course of the last 17 or so months, made pretty steady progress working through those issues. Now, there are a number of impediments that still remain. There is a process that has been engaged in in relation to wine. That is a very significant more than $1 billion set of exports to China and there is still progress to be made in a number of other categories. Now, they are raised at every opportunity. I am sure that they were raised yesterday and I'm sure they'll be raised again today. And that we will continue to keep up the dialogue and the pressure in the Australian national interest this month just the same as we have for the last 17 months.



Greg Jennett: You're right. Well, it's obvious that so much hope has been invested in the removal of restrictions around lobsters and wine, as you mentioned. What about red meat exports, though? Because although those sales are going well, there are about 20 meat processing plants abattoirs in Australia which had their permits kind of suspended because of the COVID pandemic. Many international processes have since had those permits reinstated, and only some Australian wines. What's the government doing to advocate for the full resumption of trade on their behalf?



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres:  Well, we have a process on foot in terms of wine. There is advocacy in terms of the two remaining categories, lobsters, and beef cattle from a number of Australian outlets. Now, we are going to keep up the advocacy. The truth is that all these trade impediments have not been good for China, and they haven't been good for Australia and most of them have had an impact in regional Australia, whether it's timber, lobster, coal, or wine. These are regional jobs. And you will have seen yesterday the Prime Minister in Shanghai with the Trade Minister with 250 Australian exporters. This making progress on trade is important for regional communities, but it's important for good jobs, too.



Greg Jennett: Yeah, I'm sure there'll be a quid pro quo in these negotiations, and it's widely anticipated that China might seek Australia's support in some way for the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Transpacific Partnership, the most clunky acronym will ever produce CPTPP. Why exactly would Australia not support that?



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres:  Can I be really clear about this question? We have, and I know because I have been engaged in some of these discussions as well, consistently advocated in the Australian national interest. This is not a transactional discussion. There is a requirement that we have advanced consistently with our counterparts from China for trade to return to normal. We have advanced that proposition consistently over the course of the last 17 months. That has slowly borne fruit and we have made steady progress. This is not a question of quid pro quo.



Greg Jennett: Okay.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres:  Future approaches to CPTPP membership, as Senator Farrell said in Question Time today, are a matter for the CPTPP parties. We have made Australia's position very clear. There's complete consistency over the course of not just the last 17 months, but in previous months, with the previous government, with Australia's approach on that question and I know that there will be discussions between the CPTP parties next week. There are six aspirant economies and the CPTPP. It is a very high-quality agreement.



Greg Jennett: Sure.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres:  It has a very high bar for entry, and it requires complete consensus across all the CPTPP members.



Greg Jennett: I accept what you’re saying about not being transactional in Australia's own approach. But what are the reservations that Australia holds here? Is it a lack of transparency? Is it large, state-owned enterprises? Is it the flooding of Australia with low tariff imports? What are the objections if you like?



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres:  We've consistently said in relation to all future accession applications, that firstly, it's a very high-quality agreement. So, there is a requirement, a high bar for aspirant economies or countries to get over. Secondly, it requires consensus. It's not a 50% plus one proposition. Now, those are two very difficult conditions to satisfy. We have been focused on the accession of the United Kingdom to the CPTPP. There are broader questions for the CPTPP parties in terms of a general review of the provisions of the CPTPP to make (See, I can say it! You can practice as an Assistant Trade Minister, I can say it better than I am. I'm a lot better at it now than I was at the beginning) but making sure that all the provisions are fit for purpose in the digital era, there's a lot of work in front of the parties and we'll take that issue as it comes.



Greg Jennett: All right, just quickly and finally, as a portfolio minister for Foreign Affairs, Scott Morrison made a visit to Israel at the weekend. Does the government view that as helpful, unhelpful? Did it attract any support in arrangements via the Department at its post?



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres:  I'm not aware of any arrangements that Post made in Israel to support that visit. I understand that Mr Morrison was at a political conference in the United Kingdom with Mr Johnson and other members of the Coalition. I did see that, of course, there was very significant security provided, I assume by the Government of Israel, that travel is a matter of course for Mr Morrison.



Greg Jennett: Yeah, I think we've had an explanation, just to put it on the record that it was privately funded and that will be declared. Let's see whether DFAT was involved in anyway, Tim, we covered a bit of ground. Thanks so much for joining.



Assistant Minister Tim Ayres: It's good to talk to you.