Sky News First Edition

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: World Economic Forum; World Trade Organisation reforms; Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement; agricultural production and subsidies.
17 January 2023

Peter Stefanovic, Host: You’re with First Edition. Thanks for your company, folks. Well, economists are warning of the danger of a global recession. That’s ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos. The Assistant Trade and Manufacturing Minister, Tim Ayres, will be flying there tonight. He joins us live now. Good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning.

Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: G’day.

Stefanovic: So, you’re off to party with the rich and famous. We were just talking about this in the ad break. On to more serious matters, though: what is the message that you are taking there on behalf of our government?

Assistant Minister: Well, there’s three things, really. We have a very deliberate, careful agenda that I’ll be prosecuting at Davos. There will be a meeting, series of meetings, of world trade ministers there. So, I’ll be supporting the work of the Trade Minister Don Farrell as we convene that meeting, the Ottawa group of trade ministers, focused on WTO reform. That will be really important for shaping the agenda in Australia’s national interests as we approach the next round of WTO discussions.

Secondly, you know, there is a world to win, an argument to prosecute about, in particular, agriculture access, access for Australian farmers to global markets. I’ll be prosecuting that argument. And, thirdly, of course, I want to support Don Farrell’s work that he’s been doing, making sure that we deliver a high-quality EU‑Australia free trade agreement. This is the big trade agreement that’s on the horizon. It's being negotiated now. There’ll be an opportunity to press the Australian case to some of our interlocutors.

Stefanovic: What about when it comes to climate policy? I mean, Chris Bowen just came up with a couple of new changes in recent weeks. This flows off the back of COP27. Do you expect to be received more favourably on that front?

Assistant Minister: Well, there’s a lot of doors open to Australia under this government that weren’t open under the last government. We’re actually being taken seriously, engaged as an international partner on these questions. There will be a meeting of trade ministers that deals with some of the climate and emissions questions. The WTO Director‑General has made it really clear that she sees climate and energy and food security as a series of challenges that the WTO should be tackling. Australia will be there as a responsible partner engaging on those questions. And, you know, agriculture really matters in both of these areas.

Stefanovic: Yeah.

Assistant Minister: Market liberalisation in agriculture is good for reduced emissions. More efficient agricultural production is good for reducing agricultural emissions. But it’s also good for food security, for delivering more food for a world that’s increasingly going hungry.

Stefanovic: Right. The world is in for troubled times, though, because there is a global recession that may well be on the cards. It’s expected, maybe not here, but it is expected in the northern hemisphere anyway. So how much of a blow is that going to be against whatever you might be hoping to achieve there? In terms of investment in this country.

Assistant Minister: Well, I’d say two things. Firstly, that trade really matters for keeping prices down, for increasing opportunities not just for Australian exporters and Australian businesses but also reducing the risks, reducing the economic risks around the world. So, trade really matters broadly. Prosecuting that argument against a backdrop not just of the prospects of recession in some of our overseas partners but also this Russia-Ukraine war that continues to take a terrible toll.

Secondly, trade and these engagements really matter because the world needs strong multilateral institutions now. At a time when the rules-based order has never mattered more, has never been under more threat, these opportunities to engage in the Australian national interest really matter.

Stefanovic: Right. People look at Davos, where this is happening, you know, a bunch of rich people, they’re flying to the Swiss Alps on their private jets. Does anything actually ever get achieved at these things?

Assistant Minister: Well, I didn’t have going to Davos on my bingo card last year, but this is – we should be prosecuting the national interest in whatever forum we can. This trade ministers’ meeting is going to be occurring in the backdrop of Davos. That’s where Australia should be. I’ll be there representing the national interest. As to whether the broader forum, what it achieves, well, it will be my first time there, Peter, and I’m looking forward to it. But I’m focused really on achieving the outcomes that need to be achieved for Australia.

Stefanovic: I’ve just been told that the cost of attendance is apparent 250 grand. Who’s paying for that?

Assistant Minister: Well, if there’s a cost to these, it is, of course, the government who bears the cost for these.

Stefanovic: It seems, big, though.

Assistant Minister: It seems big to me.

Stefanovic: Yeah.

Assistant Minister: And, you know –

Stefanovic: Is it worth it?

Assistant Minister: We make decisions about what – about international travel, about our engagements, really carefully. There is, of course, always a cost associated with these elements.

Stefanovic: Sure.

Assistant Minister: I think that we’ve been pretty parsimonious in terms of our approach to this international travel. There is always an underlying purpose that really matters for the national interest. I’ll be there prosecuting the argument.

Stefanovic: Right.

Assistant Minister: I’ll have a look at that cost that one of your viewers has sent into you, but –

Stefanovic: Well, do you at least get a meeting with Bono for that?

Assistant Minister: I don’t think a meeting with Bono is on my dance card for this trip. It’s a much drier agenda for me.

Stefanovic: Appreciate it. Thanks for your time.


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