27 March 2023

Kieran Gilbert, Host: Joining me live in the studio is the Assistant Minister for Trade Tim Ayres, who's off to China himself tomorrow to attend the Bo’ao Economic Forum. Minister, thanks for your time. Is this - not to downplay the importance of your trip, but is this a stepping stone to get the Trade Minister there and then essentially the Prime Minister to visit the Chinese president at some point?

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing: Well, we've seen a steady progression as we've been working through the process of stabilising the relationship with China. You know, we are being systematic, careful, acting in the national interest here. So last year, the Prime Minister had a meeting with President Xi at the G20. Penny Wong travelled to Beijing to meet with her counterpart. I had a brief meeting in Europe early this year with the Vice-Minister for Trade, Wang Shouwen, and there's been a follow up video meeting between the Trade Minister, Don Farrell, and his counterpart. And an invitation has been extended to Minister Farrell to travel to China. And I expect that to happen over the coming weeks and months. So, this is one more example of us, in a careful and sustained way, making sure that we do what is required to stabilise relations with our largest trading partner.

Kieran Gilbert: We've seen some of the trade tariffs gradually come off as well. You spoke about those political steps. The trade restrictions have also eased, but there's still a fair way to go for a number of our exporters.

Assistant Minister: There's a long way to go before you would say that the trade relationship with China has returned to normal. So there has been some relaxation of some of these trade impediments.

Kieran Gilbert: What's still there?

Assistant Minister: Coal in particular.

Kieran Gilbert: So, coal is relaxed?

Assistant Minister: But we've got to do - we're on two tracks here, really. One is we are making the case at a political and ministerial level, publicly and in direct discussions with our counterparts, but also making sure that there is a high level of engagement at the official level and the technical level to make sure we resolve any of the outstanding issues. There is still a lot of progress to go in areas like barley, areas like lobster, areas like wine. These are significant exports, not just at an aggregate level, but for particular regions of Australia. And we're going to continue to press the case, Kieran.

Kieran Gilbert: And wine was one of those ones where there was a big market and they weren't able to offload as much as, say, other commodities were able to. When you look at this relationship, did the AUKUS deal throw a spanner in the works? Has that caused any speed bump?

Assistant Minister: I don't believe that it's made any changes whatsoever. I mean, the AUKUS arrangements are not a new development. What has been a new development a few weeks ago is the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister setting out the details of the critical path process. When Scott Morrison, as the Prime Minister in the last period of government announced the AUKUS arrangements, that was 18 months ago, supported by Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party. These changes have been telegraphed widely across the world and across the region. We have been utterly transparent about them. 60 briefings delivered to countries in the region, [a] briefing offered to our Chinese counterparts. It certainly would have come as no surprise to them.

Kieran Gilbert: So, there was no adverse reaction from the Chinese? We saw some of the rhetoric, but it didn't translate into any -

Assistant Minister: Well, I don't want to be a commentator on what the approach is. I just say it could not have been a surprise. We've been utterly transparent about these questions, and we intend to continue being transparent and open with the region. Our objective here is to make the region a safer, more stable place and to continue engaging with all of the countries in the region and the government of China in a sustained way.

Kieran Gilbert: My colleague reported just before our discussion, Daniel Andrews is also in China. He's heading to China this week. Does the Federal Government welcome that? Even though I wouldn't get you to defend his approach in not taking any media, which I was surprised about. But in terms of his engagement with China, is that a good thing?

Assistant Minister: Well, I think the Prime Minister has already acknowledged today this is a good sign and a good step forward. Having one of the State Premiers engaging at his level as well. That's a good sign.

Kieran Gilbert: Yeah. It would be nice if they were willing to take a couple of cameras, I think, and journalists. It's always a good thing for discourse, but as I say, you're federal, that's state. That would have been a bit of a surprise to you though?

Assistant Minister: Not particularly. I haven't paid attention to that arrangement. I did hear your interview before. I have to say, as an Assistant Minister, I don’t, you know - while I'd love the attention, I don't see a fleet of cameras following me everywhere I go. My trip will be really workman-like in terms of the approach that we take. We've got systematic progress to make and I'm looking forward as well to meeting with leaders and Trade Ministers from across the region.

Kieran Gilbert: Assistant Minister for Trade Tim Ayres. Thanks for your time.