Interview on ABC Sydney with Wendy Harmer and Robbie Buck
Topics: Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement; Geographical Indicators
Robbie Buck: Let’s ask somebody who’s right in the midst of those negotiations. Simon Birmingham is the Federal Minister for Trade and joins us on the line. You’re in Brussels at the moment, Minister?
Simon Birmingham: I am indeed. Hello and good to be with you.
Robbie Buck: Hey, look, can you take us through what the European Union is proposing and of course, how you’re intending to respond?
Simon Birmingham: Well, tomorrow, Brussels time, I’ll be sitting down with both the European Union’s Trade Commissioner and their Agricultural Commissioner to talk through the opportunities and the challenges that exist in securing a free trade agreement between Australia and the EU. The EU is our second largest trading partner so it’s a very significant market for us and sees some $18 billion worth of goods exports from Australia to the EU, and indeed then some $11.5 billion worth of services exports. So we want to maximise that, but the EU has their demands as well and of course, the issues around geographical indications are part of that. Some parts of the Australian economy such as our wine industry have been down this path before in terms of negotiating agreements with the EU and have settled terms around a number of terms such as champagne, as you were talking about before and port and others. And yeah, it’s [indistinct] around that. But ultimately, it’s about making sure we get the best deal for Australian industry, as well as a good deal for both entities.
Robbie Buck: Hey, Wendy did bring up the point – feta. It’s a type of cheese. Is it actually a regional specialty of any kind?
Simon Birmingham: So feta, indeed, it’s a production method in some ways. It’s a type in terms of the way cheese is made. Look, these are issues that we are some way off resolving in terms of the negotiations between Australia and the EU. If there used to be a free trade agreement between Australia and the EU, the EU expects that we tackle some of the geographical indications issues. But if we are to tackle them, if we are to go down that path, it will be a very public, transparent process. Australian industry, producers will have a chance to have an input into that, to outline objections to the terms the EU wants to have protected. And in the end, we will only agree to anything if ultimately, we think the whole deal is
Wendy Harmer: Okay. I believe Minister that you can kind of get your way around this sometimes by say calling it Australian feta or in its packaging and so forth. There are a number of ways to skin this cat, aren’t there?
Simon Birmingham: That’s right, Wendy. It’s not a one size fits all solution that you can either use a word or a term or not use it at all. There are different approaches that can be applied and that have been adopted in other examples. So we’ll be looking for every innovative solution. Of course it’s not just that Australian producers make some of these goods and put them on the shelves in Australia. There it’s also that in many cases, we make them and we export them to other countries within our region. So it’s important for our trade in goods outside of Australia as well as of course, what it is that our own consumers are used to seeing – made by Australians on Australian shelves.
Robbie Buck: Alright. Well on that note Minister, are there some Australian specialties that we should be trademarking? Are there- I guess there’s not a whole lot of Chiko Rolls which are sold in Europe. But are there any other Australian foodstuffs that we could have a tit-for-tat approach to?
Simon Birmingham: Well, certainly and again, with the elements of the previous wine agreement that at least it recognises the need to protect and to give integrity to the actual geographic regions where certain products are grown. And of course in our very sector there are famous brands and recognitions that relate to regions such as King Island for example. And so certainly, whether it’s relates necessarily to a type of product, maybe Australia doesn’t have a long list there, but we do want to make sure that that intellectual property, if you like, that brand value that is attached to high quality produce from a certain region is actually something that can be safeguarded under a trading term.
Wendy Harmer: Minister, you were speaking in Britain last night, in London, at the Australian British Chamber of Commerce. And I guess you- they would have been very happy to hear you say that you’re keen to do a trade deal.
Simon Birmingham: Well indeed. Look, we are watching and monitoring closely what happens in terms of the Brexit situation but if Great Britain- if the United Kingdom is to leave the EU, well then we see it as a circumstance where Australia is able to seal and land a trade agreement between ourselves and the UK swiftly and easily. We share not just language and history, but common economics, political and legal systems and really UK is a country where we would hope to be able to get agreement quickly and there’s certainly enthusiasm for that from the UK side of things. But all of that depends upon where the current Brexit debate ends up.
Wendy Harmer: Well yes. I was just- that was my next question. Have you got any insights there?
Simon Birmingham: It would be bold and brave for me to start predicting what the final outcome will be.
Wendy Harmer: Well, you’ll be the lone ranger, I think, on that one if you knew.
Simon Birmingham: We however, we are taking- as Australia’s Trade Minister, we’re taking every precaution that we’ve already replicated a number of agreements that we have with the EU, to have those same agreements ready with the UK in the event that they leave the EU. So for example, in our wine industry, one in five bottles of wine purchased in the United Kingdom is an Australian bottle wine and so the agreements that we have in place with the EU, we have replicated, signed and sealed with the UK to make sure that there’s no interruption to the trade flows there. And of course in terms of those free trade discussions, if the UK leaves the EU, then we’ll separate discussions with both the EU and the UK. If in the end the UK happens to stay within the EU, well our existing negotiations and discussions we have with the EU will of course then encompass the UK. So pretty much a belt and braces approach that we’re applying to protect Australian farmers and businesses and their access into these key markets.
Robbie Buck: Well, we’ll leave you to get your poker face on and conduct those negotiations. Thanks for joining us back here in Australia.
Simon Birmingham: We’ll grab a little bit of sleep tonight and poker face morning here shortly.
Robbie Buck: Indeed. Thank you so much, Minister.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you very much.
Wendy Harmer: Thanks, bye-bye.
Robbie Buck: Simon Birmingham is the Federal Minister for Trade, in Europe to do those negotiations.