Topics: Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership; Australia-China Trade Relationship

David Koch: We’re joined by Trade Minister Simon Birmingham in Adelaide. Minister, thanks for joining us.
Well, I’m trying to figure out how important this is because with all of these countries, we’ve already got free trade deals, don’t we? So are any barriers going to come down because of this?

Simon Birmingham: Well, good morning Kochie. And yes, you’re right, this 15 nation agreement includes nine of our 10 top trading partners with whom we do already have agreements, but what it gives us is a common set of rules and approaches. So for goods exporters at present, they currently have to go through different processes to access different tariff rates across many of our big export markets. This should streamline that approach for them in an enormous way. But also, as Monique said in the introduction, it means in our services sector, they can get more of the types of opportunities our goods produces have had. So there are real gains there for aged care providers, healthcare providers, architectural or engineering services, financial professional services, a range of sectors that employs so many Australians to have easier access to do more business in these economies of our region.

Monique Wright: Okay. So with the services, Minister, so it looks as if one of the most significant things is that mutual qualifications will be recognised. So what’s happening at the moment for those services? Are the qualifications here in Australia not recognised in a lot of those countries?

Simon Birmingham: So part of it is about qualifications recognition but a big part of it is also about basically licensing and access to markets that, can you go up and set up a business in another country? Can you sell your services from Australia into that other country? And under this agreement, it will be easier for Australia’s businesses to do that. And importantly, we know Australian businesses do well from these things because over the last few years, we’ve recorded 33 consecutive months in a row of trade surpluses, where we export more than we import as a nation and that’s in part due to the network of trade agreements that we have successfully negotiated over recent years.

David Koch: Okay. Alright. China’s our biggest customer, takes almost 40 per cent of our exports. It’s really narky with us at the moment. It’s making it harder for us to sell into China; will this new agreement mean China will start accepting more of our exports again?

Simon Birmingham: We hope that this agreement helps to provide a break in terms of the type of tensions that are there, China has signed on to this agreement as has Australia. It’s driven by those 10 ASEAN nations, the South East Asian nations that are so crucial to our region, to its prosperity in the future and provide huge growth potential for our exporters. But in terms of China, look, Australia has been consistent in all of our approaches over many, many years including our willingness to have a mutually beneficial economic relationship. And that’s why we are deeply disappointed and frustrated at some of the decisions China has taken during the course of this year and we remain willing to have dialogue, to work through those sorts of issues. The ball is very much in China’s court to come to the table for that dialogue.

Monique Wright: Alright. Thank you very much. I noted that you were urging China to respect the spirit, not just the letter of the partnership. Alright. Thank you very much for being with us.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks Monique, my pleasure.