Topics: Australia India Business Exchange, trade relationships, and emission reductions.

25 February 2020

Kieran Gilbert:  The Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is also in New Delhi as we speak. He’s part of the Australia India Business Exchange program. I spoke to him a bit earlier.


Kieran Gilbert:  Trade Minister Simon Birmingham joins me from Delhi. Thanks very much for your time. This is the largest trade delegation that we’ve seen in the region for five years. Why has India been chosen for it?

Simon Birmingham:  This is about implementing the Australia India Business Exchange Strategy that was part of our India Economic Strategy. So our Government commissioned Peter Varghese, he’s a former high commissioner to India and former head of the Depart of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to develop a comprehensive strategy in relation to Australia’s economic relationship with India. A part of that was that there ought to be activity like this, and so we are, as part of our Government strategy, implementing that strategy by undertaking this exchange which has, indeed, more than 100 different business leaders here.

Kieran Gilbert:  And is part of it, Trade Minister, about diversifying from our reliance on China? We’ve seen with the coronavirus just how shocks, economic shocks there, can have a massive impact on us. Whether it be through tourism, education or whatever else it’s such a great reliance on that country and the trading relationship. Is this about diversifying away from that reliance on China?

Simon Birmingham:  Kieran, our Government’s relentless approach has been on creating the maximum number of opportunities and choices for Australian business. That’s why we’ve done trade agreements not only with China but with Japan and Korea; why we continue to pursue the Trans Pacific Partnership even after others said we should walk away; why we’ve recently just of course concluded and are bringing into force various free trade agreements with Peru and Indonesia; while we’re in negotiations with the EU; while we stand ready to negotiate with the UK; while we continue to pursue other trade opportunities in large countries like of course India, but equally are very mindful of other emerging partners across the region, such as Vietnam.

Kieran Gilbert:  You mentioned some of those other trade negotiations. Do you concede that free trade talks with the UK, and most certainly with the EU – and I know this from various representatives I’ve spoken to in Canberra who’ve advised me of the EU position on this – and that is that they want climate change to be included within the free trade agreements. So if the question is: if the Government doesn’t commit, for example, to zero net emissions by 2050, could that have economic and trade implications for Australia?

Simon Birmingham:  Kieran, let me be clear that no such request as that has been made. We would be more than willing, as always, to reinforce our commitment time and time again to the implementation of the Paris Agreement, to the efforts that we are doing as a country in terms of leading in renewable energies. You know, I saw research the other day by Bloomberg New Energy Finance demonstrating that Australia was basically second only to the European Union in terms of forecasts around the projections of penetration for renewable energy. So I’m confident that if we are going to have discussions at any stage about energy transformation, about climate change matters, that Australia has a positive story to tell and that we will do that in the most positive way with [indistinct].

Kieran Gilbert:  And are you open to a net zero target by 2050, given more than 70 nations have signed up – that Boris Johnson, such a strong supporter of it? Is that something that you as a Cabinet Minister, are you open to that?

Simon Birmingham:  Kieran, you know I’m somebody who likes to be pretty methodical about the way we go about things, and I think you’ve got to have plans that sit around the commitments that you make. Now, it’s a statement of fact that the Paris Agreement, which Australia is a party to, has an ambition to see net zero achieved in the second half of this century. That’s different from that type of target you’re talking about. What our Government is doing is working through how we implement all aspects of the Paris Agreement, as we ought to do so. And that starts firstly by ensuring that we meet and well and truly exceed, as the Prime Minister’s been clear, our 2030 targets and that then we build upon that in the future.

But there’s no point just putting a date on something and saying that’s when it’s going to happen if you don’t have a plan to get there. We’ve demonstrated down to the last ton, how we’re going to meet our 2030 targets, and we’ll make sure that we have clear strategies around transformation, not only in the energy sector, but also in relation to the transport sector and other many sectors as we look at future steps in relation to climate change.

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