ABC NSW Country Hour with Michael Condon

01 August 2023


Michael Condon: Well to barley now on the tariffs and the Australian Government says it expects China to drop all tariffs on barley when the deadline expires on August the 11th. And the Assistant Minister for Trade, Tim Ayres, says there's no appetite in the government or amongst the ministers for a further extension like the one that China asked for last time. He said that trade should resume and if the trade - without the barriers - and he said if the trade barriers are not dropped, he said that Australia will be heading back to the World Trade Organization.

Tim Ayres, Assistant Trade Minister and Assistant Manufacturing Minister: Well, I want to be really clear about what's happened here, Michael. The initial agreement announced by Penny Wong, the Foreign Minister, and Don Farrell, the Trade Minister, was that there would be a three-month review and there was agreement that, if required, there would be a one-month extension. That means that this report is due on the 11th of August. I expect that this report will mean that China will lift the tariffs, remove the tariffs that have been placed on barley and also remove all other impediments that there are in the place of barley exporters to China.

These are impediments that should never have been put in place in the first place. It of course, is hurting in some communities and for our barley exporters, but it's also very bad for Chinese business, in particular the Chinese beverage industry. I expect all of these impediments to be removed and in the absence of a removal of those impediments on the 11th of June (sic), of course, the Australian Government's made it very clear that we'll resume the WTO applications.

Michael Condon: And no extension, no talk of an extension?

Assistant Minister: The agreement that was reached by Trade Minister Don Farrell was very clear: a three-month review, possibility of a one-month extension, and absent the removal of tariffs and impediments, that Australia would continue with the WTO dispute that is already on foot and almost completed.

Michael Condon: Now, I know that there's quite a lot of demand for Australian barley in China. The Chinese trade is already going direct to farmers and farm organisations, so, you know, there must be some internal pressure in China, too. What have the Chinese been saying to you, anything?

Assistant Minister: Well, it's been clear from the Chinese industry that Australian barley is top-quality barley for Chinese beer. It is the best product in the world. This set of trade impediments, whether it's in barley or in the other areas, have not been in the interests of Chinese supply chains, Chinese industry or Chinese consumers. Now, it's been good to see a resumption of normal trade for coal and copper, timber, recently stone fruit. So, some progress is being made.

If we successfully navigate the way through in terms of barley, there is, of course, still quite some way to go before it can be said that China-Australia trade has returned to normal, stable, rules basis and there is still work here for the government to do, and we will be in there, backing our agriculture sector, backing country communities, and supporting the Australian national interest by advocating a return to normal trade.

Even when there is disagreement, it's important that Australia is in there at a ministerial level, at an official level arguing the case for the Australian interest, and that includes critically, the people in your listening audience, Australian farmers and the Australian agriculture sector. Whether it's in terms of these issues about trade impediments in China or market access more broadly across the globe, Australian agriculture can be confident that the Albanese Government is in there fighting for market access and for a rules-based approach to trade. That is important for Australia's economic future.

Michael Condon: Australian farmers say they don't really want anything to go to the WTO because it takes too long, and they'd prefer a negotiated settlement. So, that's your aim too?

Assistant Minister: Yeah, of course, it's always better to get an agreed pathway through these kinds of issues. It's always faster, and that's the approach that Don Farrell took here, was that there was a better pathway through by reaching an agreed approach. And if that fails, of course, the WTO is a backstop. We will be focused on improvements and reforms to the WTO process. But your point is dead right. That is: countries should follow the rules, where there's disagreement, dialogue is the best way forward. That's the approach we're taking here. But we've got the WTO process as a backstop, and we won't hesitate to return to the WTO to advocate the Australian interest here.

Michael Condon: Any joy for Australian wine, grape growers, and winemakers anytime soon with China?

Assistant Minister: Well, I expect a successful conclusion in terms of barley. I expect that in terms of wine, if there is a successful approach here, I would expect that wine would follow a similar pathway. There is, of course, a WTO process on foot in relation to Australian wine. While Australian barley producers have largely been successful in finding new markets around the world for Australia's top-shelf, high-quality barley, it's been tougher for our wine exporters and there is considerable economic pain being experienced by wine growers, the wine processors and wine communities particularly, but not just in South Australia. So, there are some tough issues there. The government's approach here has been the same; calm and consistent advocacy in the national interest and in the interest of these sectors, and we are not going to lose our focus on these issues.

Michael Condon: That's the Assistant Minister for Trade Tim Ayres.