• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Australian trading relationship with China.
18 May 2020

Samantha Armytage: A coalition of 62 countries is backing Australia’s calls for an inquiry into coronavirus outbreak in China. A draft resolution will be put to the World Health Assembly tomorrow. It comes as Trade Minister Simon Birmingham admits phone calls to his Chinese counterpart over a widening trade rift, have gone unanswered for six days. After blocking some beef imports last week, China will decide tomorrow whether to slap huge tariffs on Australian barley.

And Trade Minister Simon Birmingham joins us now live from Adelaide. Minister, good morning to you.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning Sam.

Samantha Armytage: Relations between Australia and China appear pretty dire, to use- to understate it perhaps. How do you expect China to respond to this global support of an inquiry?

Simon Birmingham: I hope that China will participate. I hope China will come on board at the World Health Assembly, joining many, many other nations in supporting the obvious need for an inquiry into COVID-19, its origins, its handling right across the world. Because we’ve had a circumstance where hundreds of thousands of people have died, millions people have lost their jobs, billions of people had their lives disrupted, and the least the world can expect is an enquiry that allows us to learn the lessons so that we can try to avoid a repeat of this in the future.

Samantha Armytage: Absolutely. And you said you would take China to the World Trade Organization if it doesn’t back down on beef and barley. So the rhetoric here is really ramping up. China is our largest trading partner at the moment, is that a risk?

Simon Birmingham: I’ve simply reserved our rights there. We hope that the evidence we’ve presented to China is compelling and we’re confident that it demonstrates well and truly that our barley exporters in no way are subsidised or dumped their products into the Chinese market. And so we hope that China ultimately decides not impose duties or tariffs there. But I’ve reserved rights in relation to going to the WTO, because in the end Australia uses the independent umpire where it’s appropriate, and we’ve done so against Canada on wine matters, against India on sugar matters. So ultimately, this is Australia simply applying the rules that we all signed up to when it comes to world trade.

Samantha Armytage: We signed a free trade agreement with China in 2015. Is that worth the paper it is written on?

Simon Birmingham: Well it has delivered enormous benefits to both countries. And I note some positive comments from China overnight that have reinforced the benefits of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. And that is absolutely correct, that the reduction in tariffs, the opening up of market opportunities, has well and truly seen our trade grow many, many times in both directions, enhancing relations in a number of ways. There are some issues of tension at present, there’s no point denying that, but I hope that we can both manage to work through these issues at the World Health Assembly when it comes into the inquiry of COVID-19, and equally continue to get on with allowing our people and our businesses to trade and exchange in ways that further relations successfully into the future.

Samantha Armytage: Well, I do hope their Commerce Minister returns your call soon. Six days and waiting. Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Sam.