• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Trade deals; Australia-India relationship.
29 November 2019

Leon Byner: Let’s talk to Trade Minister Simon Birmingham. Simon, how was this proposition put to us and good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning Leon. I think it’s important to be clear that actually it’s quite a speculative piece published in The Age, that we haven’t had a demand of the type that that newspaper is speculating on put to us. And while there’s been some views put by some parties in Europe about what they might like to see in a trade agreement with Australia, but in our formal negotiations, we’ve still got quite some way to go. We’re not afraid of contemplating environmental measures in those trade agreements consistent with the commitments Australia’s already made. And I think we have a very good track record on the environment and a very good story to tell, and we’ll happily tell that story. But we’re not- we’re not about to enter into some new or different type of commitments using a trade agreement for climate change or other purposes.

Leon Byner: So are we saying that in our negotiation of trade agreements that any kind of situation re climate change is not on the table?

Simon Birmingham: Well Leon, it’s that we’re not about to start using free trade agreement negotiations that have served Australia very well over recent years in terms of growing our exports to make new, different or additional climate change commitments. Climate change commitments are made quite rightly between all of the countries of the world in separate formulas and agreements. And that’s what we’ve done through the Paris Agreement. Now we, however, will happily restate pretty much anywhere, anytime that Australia’s intention is to deliver upon our Paris commitments. We are a country that’s got a proud record of having set and exceeded the commitments we’ve made previously and we will work hard to do that in the future. And if there’s a desire for us to note that, well we can note that in anything that’s necessary.

Leon Byner: Now we obviously need, given everything that’s come out in the last week or so, about our relationships with particular countries and how we have to maybe look at it differently. Are we going to make a really concerted effort to do much more business with India and if we are, how are we going to do that?

Simon Birmingham: Well we certainly are working hard with India. Our governments commissioned an economic strategy to look comprehensively at what we can do with India across the agriculture portfolio, the resources and energy space, education, tourism – all of them key areas. And India is now, for example, in the tourism space, our fastest growing tourism market. So we’re enjoying some real success there. Critically the Prime Minister Scott Morrison is going to lead a delegation to India in January of a handful of very senior individuals and he’s doing that at the invitation of India’s Prime Minister Modi. And that’s a good sign that India is saying very clearly the door is open from them to deeper engagement with us and they are in fact working on a complementary strategy to essentially [indistinct] the one that Australia has done for our economic strategy and engagement with India. And they’re doing a similar one now for India’s engagement with Australia. And so that bodes very well. And I will back up the Prime Minister’s January mission with a much larger trade mission of Australian businesses to head to India in February.

Leon Byner: Is it likely that India can take up the slack if things were to slow down very much so with say China?

Simon Birmingham: Look, India is a rapidly growing economy and it has capacity given its scale to be a very valuable partner to Australia. But China remains a very valuable partner. And I think it will be a very valuable partner not just four years into the future, but for decades into the future. China’s scale and proximity in our region is something that we have to work with and work to make sure it is as constructive as it possibly can be without in any way undermining our values, our democratic principles and the safety and security of our country.

Leon Byner: Well, as it’s always good to diversify your interests, I just ask a very simple question – whether India can be, to some extent, a cushion in case things slow down between us and China? And that can be just a business reality, let alone any other issues.

Simon Birmingham: And that’s a decision, ultimately Leon, very much for businesses. The analogy that I kind of use is that as government, we do our best to try to open the door for businesses to trade with other countries, and we’ve been very successful there. And I know your listeners may like to know that Australia’s now recorded 21 consecutive months of trade surpluses where we export more than we import as a nation, and that’s given us a record annual trade surplus. So our trade deals are working and they’re working because government opens those doors. But then ultimately, Australian businesses choose to what extent they will walk through those doors and in the case of business that we are doing and still seeing growth in the trade between Australia and China, but we’re also seeing a rapid growth in trade between Australia and India. Individual businesses will have to make decisions as to how they balance the risk. But certainly the government is giving every effort to create more opportunities. We did that by passing through the Parliament this week the trade agreement with Indonesia, an even closer country to us and also a very large population and fast growing economy. So we want to give our businesses those choices to be able to get our wonderful farm produce, our resources, our other exported goods and services into those countries and markets with the lowest possible taxes, tariffs or barriers in the way of our farmers and business doing that.

Leon Byner: Simon, thanks for coming on. That’s Senator Birmingham saying that some idea that we would run environmental issues commensurate with trade negotiations, I think we can take from that, it ain’t going to happen.