27 March 2023

Angela Cox, Host: The Federal Government is preparing for its own visit this week; Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing Tim Ayres joins me from Parliament House in Canberra. Thank you for joining me. Senator, you're travelling to China tomorrow. One of the goals is to lift trade sanctions on Australian goods. Is that going to be an awkward task straight after the AUKUS nuclear subs deal was signed off?

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing: Well, every opportunity for dialogue is really important. You know it's part of our calm and consistent approach that the government has been taking to rebuilding stability in our relations with our largest trading partner. I don't believe that the AUKUS arrangements have come as any surprise at all to countries in the region. They were telegraphed in the announcement that the previous government made more than 18 months ago, supported by then Labor Leader Anthony Albanese, now Prime Minister. And this announcement that was made a few weeks ago is just another step along the way.

Angela Cox: But Beijing wasn't happy with that AUKUS deal. They made that clear. Are we sending them mixed messages, saying now we want to do trade with them?

Assistant Minister: No, we are being calm and consistent and acting always in the national interest here. The decisions around AUKUS are framed utterly by what is in our national interest, making sure that we replace this fleet of Collins Class submarines with a new capability that will serve Australia well, well into halfway through this century. In terms of our trading relations, of course, there are impediments in front of a range of Australian exports to China. There has been some progress, but there is a lot more work to go and I intend to be making the case, along with the Australian business community, for a resumption of normal trade relationships with China.

Angela Cox: So, this summit that you're attending, it's been dubbed the Davos of Asia. What sort of concrete achievements are you hoping to make there at Bo’ao Forum?

Assistant Minister: Well, it is going to be a big gathering of business leaders, trade and economic Ministers from around the region and, of course, with the forum's hosts, the Chinese government. It will just be an opportunity to be making the case for Australia, to be working with our business community to put the case, and as I say, it's just one more step along the way of the calm and consistent approach that the Albanese Government has been taking to restoring a stable relationship with China. There are many, many jobs in the Australian community that rely on exports, that rely upon us taking a strong export approach. And I intend to be making the case not just to the government of China, but to business leaders and political leaders from around the region.

Angela Cox: There's been another major business forum over the weekend in Beijing. The bosses of Rio Tinto and BHP highlighted China's critical importance in the iron ore market. As Australia strengthens its allegiance with the US, are we going to need to find a new top trading partner?

Assistant Minister: Well, China is a principal destination for our iron ore exports. The Australian Government has been taking a careful and considered and consistent approach to these issues. We are determined to diversify our trade strategy to make sure that not only are we making sure that we're exporting goods all around the world, but of course, a big objective for us is making sure that we diversify the product offering that we're sending around the world. More manufactured goods. More goods bringing back Australian manufacturing. Which is why the National Reconstruction Fund is in front of the Parliament today. We are fighting hard for Australian manufacturing and Australian manufacturing exports.

Angela Cox: Okay. Thanks so much for your time, Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres.

Assistant Minister for Trade: Thank you.