Kath O’Sullivan: To discuss the fallout, we’re joined by Trade Minister Simon Birmingham. Was the Chinese Ambassador’s threat of a boycott of Australian produce by Chinese consumers a hollow threat?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I think it was an inappropriate threat and it is one where we’ve been very clear that the Australian Government won’t respond to any type of attempt or intimation of coercive economic pressures in a way where we change our public health policies any more than we would change our national security policies to such threats.
Kath O’Sullivan: What assurances can you give Australian farmers and exporters that your Government’s interrogation of China over the pandemic won’t actually cost them business?
Simon Birmingham: Well we’re not involved in an interrogation of China. What we want to see is an open, transparent inquiry into the circumstances that have seen hundreds of thousands of people lose their lives, millions of people lose their jobs and billions of people have their lives disrupted. And we don’t do this because we seek to ascribe blame or seek some sort of compensation or the like. We simply want to make sure that the world can live with greater confidence that this won’t happen again.
Kath O’Sullivan: About 30 per cent of Australia’s ag exports go to China and of course, your Government had been seeking free trade deals with the EU and UK, something that you had hoped to have finalised by the end of the year. Are you still confident of that deadline or- how has the pandemic affected trade negotiations?
Simon Birmingham: So there may well be some slippage when it comes to the end of this year deadline for some of these trade agreements. Australia’s still going to push as hard as we can. We will still do our best to try to meet any of the deadlines that we’ve set but of course, it takes two to tango on these things. And I do understand that the difficult circumstance elsewhere in the world might mean it slows down.
Kath O’Sullivan: How do you expect the pandemic may have devalued the actual value of Australian trade to those places?
Simon Birmingham: I think whilst we see lockdowns in place, there is clearly an impact in terms of consumer demand and the ability to get goods to market. We saw that with China, first and foremost, lockdown and the cessation of Lunar New Year celebrations meant that many markets dried up. But many of those markets have been coming back online in recent weeks and that’s why the Government’s been investing in providing freight support to get goods back into those markets that are coming online.
Kath O’Sullivan: With no sign of international passenger travel resuming anytime soon, how likely is it that fresh exports are going to be sustainable beyond the immediate?
Simon Birmingham: We certainly got funds to keep that support going for the next couple of months and we’ll reassess that as we go through that time as to what the most effective and efficient way we can to keep those exports going to market. I appreciate that Australian exporters fight damn hard to win contracts in business in international markets and we don’t want them to lose it just because they actually can’t find a plane to get the goods on at a viable cost.
Kath O’Sullivan: Simon Birmingham, thanks very much for your time today.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you. My pleasure.