• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Australian trading relationship with China; COVID-19 inquiry.
13 May 2020

Ditts: Simon Birmingham, is the Trade Minister and he joins us now. Simon, good morning

Simon Birmingham: G’day, Ditts, good to be with you.

Ditts: Good on you, thanks so much for your time. I know you’re taking many, many calls this morning. Is it time for us to back off? You know, I mean, we don’t want to, it’s not in our nature; we probably, as citizens, think China’s done the wrong thing. But if they’re going to start boycotting our major, major exports; how far do we go with this?

Simon Birmingham: Well, no. We can’t respond to threats or suggestions of economic coercion. Now, China’s clear in what they’re saying about these issues of beef and barley, where they say these are long running matters. And that they are completely independent of anything else such as the calls for a COVID-19 inquiry or investigation. But, Australia has to be true to our values, firm in our policy position and we’ve got to play to the long run here as well, that you can’t, as a country, surrender your sovereignty to any other country and simply say you’ll change policy positions under pressure. We’ve got to actually be firm, be strong. But, of course, we want to be respectful and engage constructively through China’s processes as well. This is about defending Aussie jobs and Aussie exports and we’re going to work as hard as we can to do so.

Ditts: And we need to have a fair inquiry into how it happened and why it happened and why it got out of China, Simon, otherwise, we might have COVID-20 or, you know, another thing in a couple of years. We just- that’s the only reason we want to find out how it all happened and, you know, whether we get US backing or Russian backing or whoever, they have to be accountable for their actions, China, surely?

Simon Birmingham: Well absolutely. Look it’s a slam dunk case that when hundreds of thousands of people have died around the world, millions of people have lost their jobs and billions of people have had their lives disrupted, surely, the least you can do is have an investigation into it. And we’re actually supporting now a European Union proposal, that will go to the World Health Assembly to conduct this investigation. So, it’s not like Australia’s an orphan, out on our own just because much of the rest of the world gets it as well. Now, not everybody’s in as good a position as us, where we’ve managed to crunch the virus and stop the spread and so we’re able to think a bit more about these sorts of issues. I get other countries are still grappling with the health emergencies that they’re facing. But clearly, we’ve got to make sure that the world does its best to prevent this from happening again.

Ditts: Simon, just before you came on; I made the point, Chinese people like to save face and what I mean by that is that no one in China, citizens don’t criticize their government, as we all know because it’s just not healthy to do so. Your future is not that rosy.

Is it a case of that? Is it them being just slightly childish that- because we heard the ambassador a week ago threaten us, didn’t he? He said: if you want to keep talking like this, we’ll stop taking your meat and your wine. Is it a bit -are they just being a little bit childish or is it deeper than that do you think?

Simon Birmingham: Oh, look. I thought the ambassador’s comments were very unhelpful and the ambassador’s comments in some ways have caused much of the commentary and questioning that’s happening now around these other trade related matters. And if they are completely unrelated as Chinese officials are saying both publicly and privately, well then clearly those comments of a couple of weeks ago have created a misperception or a misunderstanding around these matters. But, as Trade Minister, you know, it’s my job to get on and respond respectfully to China’s processes here; to put the best case forward for our barley producers, our beef producers, our farmers and exporters, overall. And to make sure that we present China with compelling evidence, which we’ve got, that our producers aren’t subsidised, don’t dump product on world markets and are simply just some of the most competitive and efficient in the world.

Ditts: Simon thanks so much for your time. I think you’ve got a difficult job in the weeks to come.

Roo: Good luck mate.

Ditts: We’re all behind you. Yeah.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks guys. Appreciate it. Cheers.

Ditts: Simon Birmingham, Trade Minister.