Afternoon Briefing with Matthew Doran

12 July 2023


Matthew Doran, Host: Joining us from Sydney this Wednesday afternoon is the Assistant Trade Minister Labor Senator Tim Ayres. Welcome back to afternoon briefing. Senator, just how tricky is this situation? Is this Australia walking away completely from these negotiations?


Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, it's good to be back on the show. We're certainly not walking away from the negotiations. What Minister Farrell indicated in Brussels this morning, of course, is that we haven't been able to bridge the gap. And we've made it very clear, privately and publicly that the Australian Government is very keen to secure a high quality trade agreement with the European Union. It is a big market of you know, circa 450 million people, it's an important market. They're important commercial and strategic reasons why there should be a high quality agreement with the European Union. But one of the issues that that needs to be resolved is securing commercially meaningful improvements to the level of agricultural market access for our farmers and agricultural sector. We've made that very clear, we're going to continue to pursue those issues in future talks with the European Union in the next six weeks or so,


Matthew Doran: These things are clearly very nuanced and very complex. But from a surface level, or at least looking from it from a distance where we are here, they seem to be the same sticking points that were still an issue a couple of weeks back when those negotiations were shelved. Has there been any movement whatsoever in that intervening period?


Assistant Minister: Well, I'm not going to conduct negotiations in public here. There's been an enormous effort by officials and Trade Minister Farrell working through the issues in a careful and consistent way. But we've always had the Australian interest at the heart of Australia's position in these negotiations, there's not a deal at any cost, not a deal with a particular time framework in mind in order to secure you know, an announcement. This is careful, sober work in the national interest for an agreement that will be in operation for decades and decades to come. Now, it's always been very clear that the end game negotiations here would engage, particularly around the agriculture issues. We are fair dinkum about doing what it is that we said we will do. And we are going to pursue a fair deal for Australian farmers and the Australian agriculture sector here. And we're going to continue to press that case in a careful and calm and consistent way.


Matthew Doran: Your colleagues across the political divide have been clearly giving their opinions as you would expect on these negotiations. The Shadow Trade Minister Kevin Hogan, telling the program yesterday that Australia has something of an ace in its deck here, and that it should be using its abundant supply of critical minerals as a way to convince the European Union to see what it is demanding here. How much has that been playing into the negotiations, those supplies? Because a lot of the focus has been on agricultural issues. How much has our supply or things like critical minerals played a part in these discussions?


Assistant Minister: Well, there's enormous mutual benefit here, in this agreement, if we can secure a high quality agreement. Certainly for our mining sector, and the critical mineral sector, there are clear advantages for both Australia and the European Union in getting supply chain security, around those issues about building Australia's capacity to be a renewable energy superpower. You know, we are one of the luckiest countries on earth in terms of our reserves of wind and solar, but also our reserves of the critical minerals that will power future generations of energy and industry around the world. And we are keen to provide that security to be a strong partner with industry and with the member countries of the European Union. And we're going to keep working on this agreement to secure that outcome. It's certainly one of the areas of clear complementarity, but there are others, our services sectors, our manufacturing industry, our agriculture, these are all sectors where we can you know, we can if working together we can produce a much better outcome for workers and firms and consumers both here in Australia and in this enormous market. 450 million people in the European Union and middle income economies with enormous potential. But as I've said before, Matthew, this has got to be a deal that that secures meaningful improvements in terms of agriculture, access to what is, you know, a very protected agricultural market.


Matthew Doran: I'm curious whether or not the deal that's just been signed between our cousins across the ditch in New Zealand and the European Union has any impact on our negotiations. There's certainly a vibe coming from Australia that New Zealand hasn't secured a great deal for itself. I'm not asking you necessarily to comment on the merits of it. But do any of the concessions that the Kiwis had to make with the EU affect our negotiations such as their willingness to potentially give up, you know, the use of certain names or their deals on market access? Does that have a flow on effects?


Assistant Minister: Well, this is certainly a deal that we're constructing in the Australian national interest. I mean, it's certainly true that as that as trade agreements are reached bilateral and plurilateral, and multilateral agreements are reached around the world, of course, people have regard to those agreements and themes that emerge in those agreements. But this is a trade agenda, a negotiation agenda that has been constructed by Australia in Australia's national interest and it has to deliver right across the economy. It has to deliver tangible benefits. And in the case of agriculture, which, you know, we had indicated, and it was very clear that  agriculture was going to be one of those issues that was going to be traversed at the end of the negotiations. It has to be an agreement that is in the interests of our farmers in our industry. You look at it from the perspective of the Australian farmer who is using European chemicals, European technology, European tractors and farm machinery product that comes off the farm is processed in many cases in abattoirs that use European machinery that arrives in Australia, duty free, tariff free. And yet there are barriers, trade barriers, in front of Australian farmers seeking to export product into the European market where we are pursuing the interests for Australian farmers and Australian agriculture and we've made it very clear all the way along but that is what we would do. We weren't able to bridge the gap despite quite some effort over the last few weeks, but we will resume negotiations over the course of the rest of this year. And, and as Minister Farrell says we're confident that ultimately we will bridge that gap.