Topics: China International Import Expo; Victorian BRI MoU
Simon Birmingham: Welcome to the Australian pavilion at the China International Import Expo. This is an amazing event in terms of its scale, but also incredible in terms of the opportunity for Australian businesses to come here to expand what is already our largest trading relationship and our largest export market.
What we have here more than two hundred Australian brands and businesses who are already actively engaged in the Chinese market and are looking to take those opportunities even further. It’s a wonderful opportunity for Australia to strengthen what is already the most incredible part of our relationship with China, which is, of course, our economic relationship.
This relationship is being turbocharged since our government negotiated and brought into force the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. And that has seen, year on year, double digit growth in terms of our trade in goods, services, as well as strong flows and investment between our two nations. And this is an agreement that’s going to continue to provide more opportunities for more Australian businesses to do more trade in the future. We welcome that. We are thrilled that Australian business has seized this opportunity. We are grateful to China for her hosting of this event and for the opportunities that have been extended to Australia in terms our exhibition here, our participation and the engagement that we’ve had.
Journalist: Minister, you have used those statistics about how substantial this relationship is. Nonetheless, there’s been some friction in recent months. The Foreign Minister is about to come, you are here now, is the relationship back on track now?
Simon Birmingham: I am thrilled to be here this week and welcome the fact that my friend and colleague Marise Payne, the Foreign Minister, will be here later this week visiting Beijing for the strategic dialogue. That’s a really welcome development and progress although of course we’ve had strategic dialogue each of the last few years as well. Premier Li in Australia last year, Foreign Minister Bishop in China the year before. This is, of course, continuing the strength of engagement that we have. I’m very pleased that the access we’ve had here has been so strong, so positive, and that every meeting encounter I’ve had, whether it be with government officials or business leaders, has been a very positive one.
Journalist: Minister there is a report today that the Prime Minister is unhappy that Victoria has done a secret deal with China. It seems to be a different emphasis from the Prime Minister that we’re hearing from you and the Foreign Minister.
Simon Birmingham: Well, we have always encouraged, as a government, engagement with infrastructure building initiatives across our region where they are sustainable and where they respect the sovereignty of other nations. And we continue to encourage to welcome that and to acknowledge that Australian businesses and those representing Australian businesses, can and ought engage positively where they can to seize those opportunities, as long as they’re mindful of the type of framework within which we expect such investment to occur, that is, that it’s sustainable investment and respects the sovereignty of others.
Journalist: But do you have concerns about Victoria’s deal, or so called secret deal, with Beijing?
Simon Birmingham: Well, the content of Victoria’s arrangement is one for Victoria to discuss. I welcome the fact that Australian businesses, and those representing them, take the opportunity to engage. We do, of course, consistently remind people to make sure that engagement is constructive, that it respects the sovereignty of third party nations where investment might be occurring and that it is sustainable for those nations as well.
Journalist: The Prime Minister’s comments suggest that, he thinks there may be something sinister in the agreement that Victoria struck on the Belt and Road Initiative. So do you agree with those comments, those sentiments?
Simon Birmingham: That might be what you’re reading into such comments. Our approach is a consistent one, consistent in terms of the approach we take to welcoming those who want to invest across our region to develop infrastructure, to pursue projects that are good for economic growth, but of course that they need to always be undertaken mindful of the sovereignty, mindful of the sustainability for those countries involved.
Journalist: Do we expect that the Prime Minister Scott Morrison to visit Beijing this year? We see He is due to have a bilateral with the Chinese leadership on Chinese soil this year. Will that happen?
Simon Birmingham: Look, the Prime Minister’s travel schedule is tight and difficult one. He of course will be visiting Singapore, Papua New Guinea and Argentina in coming weeks for the various East Asia summit, APEC and G20 meetings. When he gets a chance to come to China I’m sure he will. I’m sure he would be warmly welcomed here, as I have been, but of course that is a matter of logistical timing and considerations and there is not much of this year left.
Journalist: One concern some of the Australian importers have here about changes to Chinese regulation, new cross border e-commerce rules. Is the Australian government going to make any representations to China to seek clarity over these rules and the changes these might have and to seek an extension of the grace period.
Simon Birmingham: We’re watching some of those implications quite closely and have been monitoring some of those changes, including the way in which labelling requirements might be made. I would, I guess, urge China to act in the spirit of President Xi’s comments in his speech yesterday, where he acknowledged the importance of digital trade and e-commerce and committed overall to continued opening up and that we want to make sure that, as perhaps China works to modernise some of its rules in that regard, they also ensure that they give appropriate transition times for businesses to ensure they are ready to comply with them.
Journalist: Have you raised that with your counterpart Zhong Shan?
Simon Birmingham: Not at this stage, but as I say, we’re monitoring it closely in terms of whether both sides of their relationship are fully ready in terms of meeting those rules
Journalist: How is Australia going to boost its export competitiveness at an occasion like this where it’s all about trying to diversify its trade partners?
Simon Birmingham: I think China has been very clear that they look to increase their trade partnerships across the board and so Australia stands ready to do just that. We are a significant trading partner for China, around the seventh largest market for Chinese goods coming into Australia around the sixth largest destination for Chinese investment. Just as of course Australian goods coming here, China is our largest individual market.
Journalist: But that is now.
Simon Birmingham: So that’s now and we look forward to grow that and we welcome the fact that President Xi has made very clear a commitment to continued openness in the future and that continued openness in the future is something that presents new opportunities for Australia. Just yesterday he singled out education and health services as areas for further openness, well of course Australia already has very strong education ties with China. In terms of Chinese students coming in studying in Australia and the opportunity for Australian tertiary education institutions to expand their presence here in China would be a welcome one, as would across the healthcare sector too.
Journalist: You don’t see Australia’s position being eroded by the extra competition?
Simon Birmingham: China is confident in China’s growth forecasts. That is a growth that we welcome and want to see continue because China’s growth to date has lifted eight hundred million plus people out of poverty, not just here in China, but of course in many neighbouring countries across our region. We want to see that growth continue to elevate incomes across our region, which means that we have a bigger pie within which all countries can share, including Australia.
Journalist: The Prime Minister has asked Victoria to release the content of their BRI agreement, the Federal Government signed last year a BRI on third parties. Would you also reveal the content of that?
Well agreements between different nations are, convention of course dictates that they’re only released where both parties agree to their release. That’s not the case in terms of Australia’s current agreement.
Journalist: Your colleague Andrew Robb who is here in China at the moment, when he was Trade Minister, he was on the National Security Committee. The argument there was that trade is an important part of the relationship with other countries. Do you believe the trade ministry should be represented on National Security Committee of cabinet?
Simon Birmingham: I’m not about to comment, nice invitation, but I’m not about to comment on the composition of cabinet sub committees. That’s a matter for the prime minister. I would just give the assurance that I am co-opted and engaged whenever required. Thanks, everybody.