14 May 2020

SUBJECT: Australia’s trading relationship with China; COVID-19 inquiry; the need to diversify our export markets.



SUBJECT: Australia’s trading relationship with China; COVID-19 inquiry; the need to diversify our export markets.

ASHLEIGH GILLON, HOST: Beijing has threatened to impose large tariffs on Australian barley, and has banned four abattoirs from exporting meat, citing technical issues. The Trade Minister and Agriculture Minister have been unable to speak so far with their Chinese counterparts to resolve the trade issues. For more on this now we’re joined by the Shadow Trade Minister, Madeleine King, in Canberra. Appreciate your time Madeleine King. The Opposition in recent days has seemed to ramp up criticism of the way the Government's been handling this push for a probe into the origins of COVID-19. Just to clarify, do you think China would be suspending these beef and barley imports at this point if Mr Morrison hadn't made that call, do you believe the two are directly linked?

MADELEINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR TRADE: It's important to take the author of the statements from the Chinese government and their spokespeople on their face value. The barley investigation has been going on for a long time, over 18 months, and during that 18 months, many people have been working very hard to provide evidence from the Australian point of view that there has not been dumping and we believe that to be the case. But China is entitled to use the rules of the World Trade Organisation. Equally, Australia is as well, so we don't think the two are linked and I support the Government's actions on this. It is a shame that the relationship has deteriorated over recent years and there’s not the layers of resilience that might have been there earlier. Having said that, it is a different regime in China than it was when relations were a bit better. So it is a complex situation. What I do know is that China is a critical trading relationship for the nation and especially for my home state of Western Australia

GILLON: Is that a naïve view, though, Madeleine King? We’ve seen a lot of China analysts suggesting that that link couldn't be clearer. We had the Chinese Ambassador make very clear threats, just weeks ago, talking about potential bans of beef exports. We’ve seen the Global Times newspaper, which as you know is seen as a mouthpiece for the Chinese government, warning just overnight that China doesn't need Australian exports, that even suggested that China could look towards Brazil for iron ore and other commodities. Does China really have any other options to feed the need for those commodities? Is this threat real?

KING: Well, we can all have different views on what a newspaper has said or an official has said, but we do have to respect the official statements from the Chinese government as we would hope the government respect the official views from our government. And that's how nation-to-nation relationships are to be maintained and that's what I support. The commodities that China imports from Australia are very important to us and our export industries, of course iron ore. And that's a relationship and a trading relationship that will go on for many years. But as many have forecast in coming years, their demand for iron ore is going to plateau and so it is up to the Australian Government, and all businesses in Australia, to think about what our options are beyond that, about diversification. We can all say “wouldn't diversification be wonderful’” and there are steps you can take on that with free trade agreements. But my point is that we really have to make it happen. Wishing for a diversification of markets is not going to make it happen. We have to take steps each and every day to think about where we can trade next as our relationships change, as demand change, as the international market changes. So for instance, by 2050 Indonesia and India are predicted to be two of the top four economies in the world. We should be working every day to make sure that when they get to that point, Australia is a trusted trading partner. And the good news is, by that time we will also be trading with the US and China, and Australia will be a trading partner of the top four economies in the world. But to make that diversification happen, we have to work hard, it's going to take years, it’s going to take decades, it’s going to take commitment.

GILLON: For our viewers who aren’t aware of your background, you have been looking at these policy issues I know for many years now, working at the Perth USAsia Centre, so this is not new territory for you. Your colleague Andrew Leigh has suggested that we're playing deputy sheriff essentially to the US. Is that your position, is that Labour's position more broadly?

KING: I support the call for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19, and I support it because transparency is important for future global health. The world wants to know, the Chinese community, the Chinese people want to know how this disease started. Just like Australians want to know how the Ruby Princess debacle was allowed to continue. So it’s transparency that's important and Labor does support the initiation of an investigation into the origins of the disease. We can argue it should have been…

GILLON: Was that unhelpful for Andrew Leigh to interject into this debate?

KING: My recollection is that that's a characterisation that John Howard first put out there. And my reading from Andrew is that he was really repeating an initiative of John Howard, so I'm not sure the characterisation of what he said is entirely correct. But I don't think we are the deputy sheriff to America. Australia does act in its own national interests, as it should and as we always will. We speak to our friends in the US like we do to our friends right around the world. And we have an independent foreign policy and we will continue to do so.

GILLON: Madeleine King, the Shadow Trade Minister, I appreciate you joining us on Newsday this afternoon, thank you.

KING: Thanks very much, Ashleigh, good to speak.