Topics: US election results; Paris agreement; China-Australia trade relations




David Speers:  Now, two of the big issues in discussions between the incoming Biden administration in the US and Australia will be trade and relations with China. The Finance and Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now from Parliament House. Minister, a very good morning to you. Thanks for joining us.


Now, look, we know the Prime Minister yesterday congratulated Joe Biden on his victory. We know Donald Trump, though, says he’s won. So is the current president wrong?


Simon Birmingham:    Well good morning, David. It’s good to be with you. We do congratulate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on their historic victory. We look forward to what will be another new chapter in the great alliance between Australia and the United States. We have faith in the United States’ democratic and legal institutions to ensure a smooth transition of power, according to the will of the American people. And in the end, that is what everyone would expect to occur…


David Speers:  Sure, but I guess my question was – is it Australia’s judgement that Donald Trump is wrong?


Simon Birmingham:    It’s Australia’s judgement that the election has been called for Joe Biden. He has claimed victory in that regard. We acknowledge that, and like world leaders right across the globe, we have congratulated him on his victory. We will continue to work with the Trump Administration through the period, right through to January 20. And thereafter, we look forward to working with the Biden administration, just as successfully as governments of all political persuasions in Australia have always worked successfully with administrations of all political persuasions.


David Speers:  One of the things that Joe Biden spoke about in his victory speech there was climate change. He wants to recommit to the Paris Agreement. He has plans to implement a net zero by 2050 emissions target. Do you think that the US setting that net zero target by 2050 will be helpful?


Simon Birmingham:    Well, we welcome the fact that Joe Biden is committed to the Paris Agreement. Our Government never walked away from the Paris Agreement …


David Speers:  I’m asking about the target – do you think that’s going to be helpful?


Simon Birmingham:    Well look, David, I’m making the point very clearly here – the Paris Agreement is what Australia is deeply committed to. We’ve never walked away from it.


David Speers:  No. We know that. I’m just asking about the target through, Minister – do you think that’s helpful?


Simon Birmingham:    I think what is helpful is that Joe Biden has also outlined a clear approach to invest in technologies – the same type of technology roadmap.


David Speers:              He has, but the target is what my question was. Is that helpful?


Simon Birmingham:    Well, what is helpful – are policies that actually change emissions profiles. That’s what we’re investing in in Australia, and we look forward to the United States taking a complementary approach in investing similarly in terms of emissions reductions policies.


You know, Australia has reduced emissions by a greater rate since 2005 than the OECD, on average, by a greater rate than the United States. What we want to see is that the rest of the world achieves the same type of success as we have in building a strong trajectory to get us to the point of net zero as soon as possible. The Paris Agreement commits all parties to achieving that in the second-half of this century but we want it done as soon as possible …


David Speers:  Sorry, can I just turn to trade, because on the China front, there’s still a lot of concern about Australian exports of everything from sugar and barley, to coal and copper and lobster and uncertainty about whether they’re being blocked in China or not. Do you have any update on that? And you know, some business groups, the Australian Industry Group saying you should take China to the World Trade Organization. Will you?


Simon Birmingham:    We’ve certainly reserved our right there, particularly in relation to the instance of barley. And if we have other concerns along the journey that are appropriate to raise through the WTO, we will do so. And we look forward to the new Biden administration engaging, we hope, in the WTO processes and helping to get a more efficient and effective World Trade Organization in the future.


In terms of the actual practicalities of trade flows into China – we’ve been monitoring, as you would expect, very closely over recent day, the flow of certain goods. And some of the predictions that have been made about complete blanket stoppages occurring at China’s borders have not materialised. There remain points of concern, particularly in relation to the length of time of testing regimes for certain goods, such as those lobsters entering the China market, where, because of the time sensitive nature of that product, it needs to be sped up.


David Speers:  So lobsters are a problem.  But what is getting through? You mentioned some things are getting through. Which ones?


Simon Birmingham:    So we’re seeing other categories in relation to seafood. We’re seeing some positive signs in relation to the wine sector, which had been talked about as well. We continue, as I say, to watch very closely against the type of rumours that have circulated of blanket bans being put in place. Chinese authorities, publicly and privately, have denied that sort of application of a blanket ban, and we would hope that they are true to their word in that regard, and thus far, as I say, we’re seeing that there is movement at the border, if you like, in terms of goods still progressing. It’s early days. We will keep a close and watchful eye on that.


David Speers:  Simon Birmingham, Minister for Finance, Trade and Tourism. Thank you very much for joining us this morning.


Simon Birmingham:    Thanks, David. My pleasure.