Topics: Barley WTO; Australia-China relationship,




Monique Wright:          Well, Australia is officially taking China to the World Trade Organization over tariffs on barley as our trade dispute escalates. Earlier this year, Beijing imposed an 80 per cent import tariff on Australian barley, claiming that we were dumping it on the market by selling it at a cheap price. More recently, China has also restricted imports of Australian wine, lobster, beef, timber, cotton and coal. Joining us now is Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham. Good morning to you, Minister, thanks for being with us. So how confident are you that this will actually resolve the dispute? and how long will it take for the WTO to adjudicate it?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, Mon, thanks for the opportunity. Look, these aren’t quick processes, it can take up to a couple of years or so for these matters to be fully heard and resolved which is why we continue to emphasise that when we have used World Trade Organization processes before – such as with Canada in relation to wine – we were able to resolve it without having to go through the full process because the two parties sat down and talked along the way, and we are very open to doing that with China.


But in the interim, of course, we believe in having independent rules, we believe in there being an independent umpire, and that’s why we’ve called in the independent umpire to help resolve this and restore the integrity of the Aussie farmers who we know don’t dump their products on international markets, and certainly aren’t subsidised by governments in the production of their products.


Monique Wright:          Yet sitting down and talking to China, it’s just not happening, isn’t it? We know that you can’t even get your Chinese counterparts on the phone. So what is Australia’s long-term goal here? Is there any chance that Australian and China can get back to the relationship that we once had?


Simon Birmingham:     Look, there are always prospects. Australia hasn’t changed our position and we of course always defend Australia’s sovereignty and make sure that we protect our security and standards and way of life here. But equally, we remain consistent in saying that we value the partnership and want to work on it, and want to make sure that Aussie farmers, businesses, people, can get on with trading and engaging with their Chinese counterparts.


And so, our position is consistent, and we will always be willing to sit down and talk with our counterparts. But in the meantime, we get on with helping our farmers and businesses in their export growth into so many other markets as well. That we’ve secured trade deals with in recent years, and that we keep negotiating with, such as Japan and Korea, Vietnam, Canada, Mexico, Indonesia. They’re all trade deals that we have renewed and settled just in the last couple of years, while we’re also negotiating new pathways with the European Union, the United Kingdom, India – big new opportunities for our producers too.


Monique Wright:          Well, let’s hope that that can happen. Now yesterday, we spoke to Professor John Blaxland who said that this was just a normal aspect of international trade and we shouldn’t be getting too worked up about it. But what do you think of China’s actions?


Simon Birmingham:     We are deeply disappointed in China’s actions during the course of this year in particular. Things like the barley dispute go back over the course of a couple of years. We don’t think that it’s consistent with the values, principles or indeed letter of the commitments they’ve made to the World Trade Organization or through their free trade agreement with Australia. But we are willing, as I stress, to work through those issues, and in the meantime, support our producers in accessing the rest of the world.


We’re using these processes with the WTO to call out what we think is a wrongdoing by China in relation to Australian farmers, and to call in the independent umpire, and that’s about using the proper processes as Australia does.


Monique Wright:          Alright, Simon Birmingham, we know that you’ve got to be somewhere. We really appreciate your time this morning, thank you.


Simon Birmingham:     Thanks, Mon, much appreciated.