Topics: Australia-China trade relations; Travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand.
Spence Denny: But the other aspect in Simon Birmingham portfolio at the moment is what’s going on with China. We know that there have been trade restrictions over the last couple of months involving our wine and other products. And now it looks like coal is a target.
In fact, I can tell you that Senator Simon Birmingham is with us now, Minister for Trade and Tourism, Simon Birmingham, good morning.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Spence. Thanks for the opportunity.
Spence Denny: Can we can we start by talking about the circumstances around coal and China at the moment? What are the logistics of them? Are there tankers actually moored off China at the moment and China’s saying no, go away?
Simon Birmingham: There are still quite a number of vessels carrying coal that are moored off of the coast of China. That’s been the case for a considerable period of time now; some have cleared their shipments. These are in unique circumstances because often and indeed usually what occurs in this resources trade is that once the coal is loaded in Australia, it is paid for before it leaves the port in Australia.
So in many ways, ownership has already changed hands over to the Chinese purchaser. But it is obviously a great difficulty for the shipping companies, clearly for the crews, a very difficult set of circumstances. And so, we and a number of other countries involved in operating those ships and crews have been lobbying China to get that cleared.
But overnight, what we have seen are further reports that seem to suggest some sort of coordinated action to not buy Australian. And if that is the case and being coordinated by the Government, then clearly that would be a breach of the type of market undertakings that China has made as part of their World Trade Organization membership, as well as to the and through our free trade agreement.
Spence Denny: What are the Government’s avenues of appeal in circumstances like this?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ve got to get across the facts first and foremost. We have already raised a number of concerns at the WTO about China’s actions and particularly actions that appear to be discriminatory against Australia or in breach of their commitments. And we’ll continue to look at all the different avenues that are available to us across each of the different types of cases. And they do vary from, of course, anti-dumping type decisions in relation to barley or wine, claims in relation to safety labelling or standards in relation to beef or seafood; all these sorts of practices, which just appear to be almost more directive or influencing of purchases to just steer away from Australia. We’ve got to get across the facts in each case and then we can examine the legal avenues or other avenues available to us.
Spence Denny: Is there some sort of retaliatory action that could be considered, i.e. the discussion around expelling some of the diplomats? Because China seems to have a lot of them in Australia.
Simon Birmingham: Look, we’re not into simply tit for tat retaliation, Australia’s approach is to try to get solutions and to engage as constructively as possible. We’ll go through the proper processes. Ultimately, if WTO appeals is upheld against China and they refuse to rectify those issues, well then there are processes Australia can take in recourse to that eventuality. But we’re taking it one step at a time. It’s important for people to remain calm.
Australia is going to maintain the same type of consistent policy. We consistently stand by our values and defend our national security and interests. But we also consistently argue for a rules-based approach to engagement internationally, including in trade. And that means that we should uphold all of those practices with the same consistency and values.
Spence Denny: To your other portfolio and that being tourism, what can you tell us about this proposed travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand? We know it exists in a form so far, but doesn’t help people in South Australia at the moment.
Simon Birmingham: Well, much better news there, Spence, that’s for sure. Look, very welcoming of the fact that New Zealand has indicated yesterday, at least a timeline and some parameters to open up quarantine-free travel from Australia into New Zealand. We did so for Kiwis coming to Australia some time back now in recognition of the very high success that New Zealand has had in suppressing COVID. And of course, Australia has had similarly high success and we’re very encouraged by the fact New Zealand now welcomes that. And hopefully, before the summer is out, we will see true two-way travel reopen between our two countries and that will be at almost the 12-month anniversary of the first travel restrictions being put in place; a huge step back in the right direction of normality. And great news, of course, for all those people whose jobs in airlines, airports, hire car companies, hotels and the like depend upon people being able to travel as well as those desperate to reunite with loved ones.
Spence Denny: Senator Simon Birmingham, I know your time is limited. Thank you.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Spence. My pleasure.