• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Wine-dumping allegations, Australia’s relationship with China
18 August 2020

Jules Schiller: Of course, the anti-dumping investigation into wine is part of a growing trade tension with China. They’ve suspended some beef imports, they’ve imposed tariffs on our barley, warned students and tourists that it’s not safe to travel to Australia because of allegations of racism. So where will it all end? And can the Federal Government fix it? Let’s talk to the man who would be on the phone to the Chinese Trade Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham. Welcome, Senator.

Simon Birmingham: Hello, Jules. Good to speak with you.

Jules Schiller: Do you agree with Chris Schacht who just said that we’re paying the price for being too heavily aligned with Donald Trump?

Simon Birmingham: No. I think Chris Schacht should look more carefully at everything the Government has said and done. He spoke about us lining up with the US in a trade war, whereas in fact I’ve criticised a number of the US trade tactics. The recent dialogue held between Australia’s Foreign Minister and the US saw our Foreign Minister make very clear at the time that we have differences of perspective and approach to the US. We have our own foreign policy, our own approaches, and we do have our disagreements with the US. We have our disagreements with China, as you’d expect any country to have, but our approach with China is one where we believe that they ought to respect the sovereignty of other nations across the region, that it’s important that we show respect to rule of law in areas such as the South China Sea. But we also believe that we have a relationship built up over many years now of expanding trade and commercial ties that has been beneficial to both our countries, and we are eager to work with China to ensure that that continues. And today’s announcement around an anti-dumping investigation into Australian wine imports into China is a genuine concern.

Jules Schiller: Are we dumping wine in the Chinese market?

Simon Birmingham: Definitely not. Australia’s wine producers, and particularly South Australia’s amazing and outstanding wine producers have spent many, many years building up their expertise, their innovation to be world leaders in terms of producing quality wines at affordable prices. Although, when we look at the latest analysis in China – in fact, the Australian wine imports into China were the second most expensive of all countries sending wine into China in the first half of this year; second only to New Zealand. So we were more expensive than our European competitors in that market, and that’s a demonstration of the premium quality that we’re sending there, and they’re certainly not dumping the product, and they’re certainly not subsidised to export it.

Jules Schiller: Senator Simon Birmingham, if it’s that obvious that we’re not dumping the wine, that we’re the second most expensive wine in China, then surely there must be something else behind this. Is it to do with Huawei and our banning their establishment in this country? Is it to do with our stance on the South China Sea? Is it to do with many, many things?

Simon Birmingham: Jules, we can only take it at face value. I understand why people will look to other motivations and debate those potential other motivations. China says that they’re investigating this as a result of a complaint from the Chinese alcohol industry about what they allege are dumping practices. It will be investigated by their equivalent of our own anti-dumping commission that looks at issues here in Australia, and theirs will do the same in China. We will have a chance to make submissions alongside Australian industry to that to demonstrate the entirely market-based way in which our(*) wine industry operates. And we will do that providing every ounce of support to our wine industry to demonstrate the evidence and the facts of the case that supports them and their reputation as nothing but commercial, competitive, world-class premium wine producers.

Jules Schiller: Are you worried, Senator, about the – just the temperature of our relationship with China? I mean, Senator Rex Patrick put out a media release yesterday, pretty much calling for the Chinese consulate in Adelaide to be closed down. He was worried that, you know, that it was established around the time many defence contracts were signed. I mean, do you think that, as all these different little things that are happening around Australia, that the temperature is just too high on China?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I can’t say whether actions like those of Rex Patrick are directly harmful to the relationship, but they’re certainly not helpful to it. And yesterday, I criticised Senator Patrick for the fact that he seems to just be engaging in cheap headline grabbing stunts when if he sat down and talked to defence and other security officials, he’d understand that the range of safeguards we have in place to protect our defence infrastructure, the plans for our naval shipbuilding down there, and all of those other sorts of issues.

As I said at the outset, we have points of difference there in the relationship with China, but it is also one where there are points of agreement, points of complementarity, and that’s what we would wish to focus on. We’re also eager to make sure that we continue to give our wine producers the opportunity to expand, not only with China as they’ve done, but in other markets as they have done so successfully as well. And that has seen significant growth in terms of Australian wine exports into a whole range of countries, a growth of 50 per cent to Denmark, 14 per cent to Singapore, some growth of 90 per cent in Indonesia. Even exports of Australian wine to France are up 23 per cent. So you can see the diversity of countries that we’re getting into. They’re not markets as big as China’s, but there’s certainly opportunities for further growth, further diversification for our producers. And we are doing all we can to help them with that.

Jules Schiller: Finally, Senator, have you got a direct line to the Chinese trade equivalent at the moment? Is he or she answering your calls?

Simon Birmingham: No, Jules. It’s well known that that China has not been willing to have ministerial level discussion about these matters. We’re deeply disappointed by that. We think that that mature nations should be able to confront issues through dialogue and discussion, including where they may have disagreements and to talk through those points of disagreement. Doesn’t mean that we would compromise on our values or what we see as being in our interests or essential for our national security. But dialogue is important for countries to work out these points of disagreement, and we remain very willing – and I remain very willing – to have those discussions whenever China is ready to do so.

Jules Schiller: Senator Simon Birmingham, been very generous with your time. Thanks.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Jules. My pleasure.

Jules Schiller: That’s Senator Simon Birmingham there, Federal Trade Minister. He’s just commenting on this breaking news story that China have launched an anti-dumping investigation into Australian wine.