ABC Newsradio Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement; Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement; WTO reforms; Australia-China trade.
22 January 2023

GLEN BARTHOLOMEW, HOST: Well, an Australian trade delegation has held crucial talks with Chinese officials during a week-long visit to Europe. The group's finalising agreements with the United Kingdom and the European Union but officials have also used that time to work on Australia's relationship with China. Our Assistant Minister for Trade, Tim Ayres, says removing the impediments to trade is in the interests of Australian producers and Chinese consumers.

TIM AYRES, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TRADE: I'm pleased that the Vice Minister has agreed that the trade ministers will meet over the coming weeks to further discuss these issues. It's an important step along the way.

BARTHOLOMEW: Tim Ayres is part of an Australian trade delegation that spent the last week in Europe hoping to hurry along the implementation of two multibillion-dollar trade deals with the United Kingdom and the European Union and he's optimistic on both those fronts as well.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, we've got a very positive response to Australia's message here. The objective in these discussions is very straightforward in the national interest. Firstly, I'm here to advocate for - to advocate for and to shape the agenda as we approach the next round of World Trade Organization discussions in Australia's interest. We've got an interest in a strong, viable international trading system, a rules-based order, and I'm here to advocate for those issues.

Secondly, to strengthen Australia's position, particularly in relation to agriculture and agricultural subsidies. And finally, every opportunity I get, I'm making the case for the strongest possible Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement deal in the interests of Australian business and Australian farmers.

BARTHOLOMEW: The UK agreement was signed virtually in December 2021. It's been ratified by our Parliament. Why has it been delayed in the UK? Are you worried that the UK might be seeking some changes?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I certainly don't think there'll be any changes sought and I'm very confident after the discussions that I've had and that Minister Don Farrell has had with his UK counterpart, that this agreement will proceed through the UK Parliament. It will provide very significant benefits in terms of additional market access and investment and services provisions. The Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement is yet to be signed. There are talks ongoing and fresh talks scheduled between our negotiating teams in Australia in just a few weeks' time.

BARTHOLOMEW: And how would you describe the negotiations with the European Union deal?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: It's a very constructive set of discussions. Obviously, there are some hard issues there, but both the European Union and Australia stand to benefit from this agreement. This is a massive market for Australia, 400 million people, a very significant market for our agricultural products, for our goods, for our manufactured goods, for our services. This is absolutely a deal we're doing, and we're committed to not just negotiating any deal, but to negotiating a high-quality agreement that backs our businesses and backs our farmers.

BARTHOLOMEW: Some of the sticking points with the EU surround the use of names of protected products. Prosecco is one of hundreds of foods and wines the EU wants safeguarded from use by Australian producers. Is that likely to happen?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Certainly, one of the issues that the negotiating teams are working through. And of course, in Australia, whether it's prosecco or other wine varieties or varieties of cheese like parmesan and feta, this is a crucial part of the multicultural makeup of Australia. It's not as if Australians have gone to Europe and taken these varieties and brought them back. These are Italian-Australian families who've come from Italy with wine varieties, grown them in Australia, brought their food culture and their food production methods to Australia with them and made that part of Australian food culture and the Australian agricultural production system.

So, we feel very strongly about these issues. Australians feel very strongly about them. It's also important to appreciate how important these issues are to European cultural identity as well. So, this is one of the issues we're going to have to find our way through. This is an important deal. It's of enormous economic benefit and we're going to have to make sure that we work through these issues in a calm and methodical way in the interest of our constituencies.

BARTHOLOMEW: That's the Federal Assistant Minister for Trade, Tim Ayres, speaking to me earlier from Rome.


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