• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: China suspending beef imports.
13 May 2020

Samantha Armytage: Key Federal Ministers deny that the PM’s push for a global COVID-19 inquiry has triggered a new trade war with Australia’s biggest export market. China has now suspended beef imports from four local abattoirs as tensions between Canberra and Beijing increase. The halt has raised major concerns considering China spent $134 billion on Australian goods last year, equating to 36 per cent of our exports.

And we are joined now by Trade Minister Simon Birmingham from Canberra. Minister, good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Sam.

Samantha Armytage: Is it payback from China for our PM pushing to have an independent inquiry into the origin of coronavirus?

Simon Birmingham: Chinese officials say both privately and publicly that these are unconnected matters. That the investigations in relation to barley and the issues in relation to beef have been running for 12,18 months in duration before they’ve reached these decisions. Now, the decisions themselves concern us, and that’s why we’re working around the clock, as a Government, to respond in a calm and methodical manner to Chinese authorities, and to put the best possible case forward for our farmers and businesses to make sure that we protect the thousands of jobs that are involved.

Samantha Armytage: Yes. China, on the weekend accused Australia of dumping barley on international markets. Now, they’re suspending our beef, our dairy farmers are nervous; they’re threatening wine. Why should Australian farmers and graziers be bullied by China? We supply them with a lot of gas and coal. You know, can we not hold our own here?

Simon Birmingham: Well Australia certainly holds our own. We adopt our policy positions consistent with our values and we don’t need to entertain economic coercion in any sense, in terms of changing our policy positions. But we do seek to have the most respectful and engaging relationship we can with a partner like China. And in relation to these types of issues, you will always have occasional bugbears that come up in a trading relationship as a result of technical issues or breaches or claims of practices like dumping.

Now, in this case, we completely reject the idea that our barley farmers are anything other than amongst the most efficient and productive in the world. That’s why they produce large volumes at good competitive prices and high quality for export. And they do so free of government subsidy and they price their market well and truly according to market principles.

Samantha Armytage: Are we looking for other markets here? The US and Japan are very fond of our beef and our products. Are we looking for other alternatives to China?

Simon Birmingham: We are always presenting more opportunities to our exporters. Indeed, the last lot of trade statistics that came out saw Australia record a record trade surplus and importantly, saw that we had strong growth in export volumes to the Republic of Korea, to Japan, to the United States, to the United Kingdom. And so we can see that the trade deals we have done, not just with China, but with a range of other countries and a new one within Indonesia coming into force on 5 July, are giving exporters more opportunities and those exporters are taking advantage of those increased opportunities.

Samantha Armytage: Just quickly, could this be good news for Australians? I’m hearing people buying wagyu for pretty good prices. Could we just consume our own beef for a while? The beef that would normally go to export markets, we could have ourselves perhaps?

Simon Birmingham: I love a good Aussie steak as much as the next person, but I want our farmers to be able to get the best prices for their cattle and to be able to have the best possible access to markets right around the world. Australia produces enough food to feed around 75 million people, close to three times our population, and that’s why it’s so important that we are an exporting nation and that we trade successfully with other countries.

Samantha Armytage: We are very good at it. Simon Birmingham, thanks for your time. We’ll talk soon.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Sam.