Former Minister for Trade
Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

Transcript - E&OE

23 June 2009

Joint Media Conference with European Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton

following the 5th Australia-European Commission Trade Policy Dialogue, Brussels

Topics: Australia-European Union relations, advancing the Doha Round, Australia-China FTA talks.

Commissioner Ashton: It is nice to see you all. It is especially nice to welcome a colleague and a good friend, Simon Crean, Minister for Trade from Australia. This is an important day because we have had a ministerial level Australia-EU trade policy dialogue. That’s critical for us to sit together and being able to discuss issues of this importance. We’ve used the time as well to do something very practical, because we initialled and signed our reviewed mutual recognition agreement and that’s important for our companies, because it helps to simplify how they’re able to operate in Australia. But we’re always looking for ways we can enhance our bilateral trade cooperation, so a large part of what we have been doing - formally today, informally yesterday  and we will be continuing as we move to Paris for the OECD meeting — is thinking through what more we can do to strengthen and deepen the collaboration and the cooperation between the European Union and Australia, on all of this. Perhaps a special focus for us is thinking through the issue of climate change and the importance of how we develop our trade, in that context. So, I will if I may, hand over to Minister Crean. 

Minister Crean: Thank you Cathy and a pleasure to be here with you. We have had a very warm mutually trustful relationship since you’ve taken the position over. And I’m delighted that the trade dialogue we have engaged in today is for the first time being elevated to ministerial level. It comes from our joint conviction that in terms of advancing the interests of our countries, there has to be the political will as well as dealing with the technical solutions. As Cathy has indicated, we’ve signed today an agreement that gives effect to some of that technicality, an agreement that will reduce the cost of doing business - that is a mutual recognition of each country’s regulatory framework, for the purpose of doing that business - and therefore a significant response to our commercial interests in both the EU and Australia. Beyond that, we talked about a number of other issues in terms of furthering the bilateral relationship. Particularly in the areas of mutual support, areas that go to energy efficiency, to logistics, to services. Even though there are issues in the traditional sense of product movements, we’ve taken the relationship beyond the prism of just talking about those. Clearly, there is potential in services and investment growth between Australia and the EU. A final point I’ll just reinforce is that not only have we talked about the bilateral relationship of doing business together, but working together to advance the multilateral framework. Both Doha, where we have been very close collaborators in attempting to move the agenda forward, and the meeting that we’re both going to on the margins of the OECD in Paris over the next couple of days, we hope, will move it another step forward. And finally, on the question of climate change, a realisation on both of our parts that, rather than just talk about the threat of climate change, what are the opportunities, where are the green collar jobs, how can we together not just come up with technical solutions in terms of abatement and addressing climate change, but creating new job opportunities for our respective economies. So, it’s a pleasure to be here. Cathy, thank you very much for hosting today. We look forward to your return visit to Australia. But I think that this is an historic day in that we have elevated the relationship, we’ve given substance to, not just the trade dialogue, but in the context of the partnership framework …that emerged from our Prime Minister’s visit here last April. 

Journalist: Two questions. One for both of you, one for Mr Crean. For both of you, at the OECD, what concretely do you hope can be achieved related to Doha? What do you think of the opportunities of a mini-ministerial? I know that the Indians are quite keen to hold one in September, October, do you think it achievable? Mr Crean, on China, you have obviously been travelling there, I believe, recently, quite regularly. What are the chances of re-opening the FTA talks with China, and if so, what sort of a timeframe, maybe for the end of the year? 

Commissioner Ashton: First, I’ll say a little bit about the ministerial meeting that is in the side margins of the OECD which is being led by Simon Crean. So, he will say more about it. For my part, what I want to see is the progress that we all have been ambitious for, now that we have the government of the United States formally committed to completing the Round. Of course, new Minister Sharma who has indicated, from everything I’ve read, that he also is very committed to bring things forward. What I hope we’ll see is progression of the discussions. And perhaps to the point where we’re actually inviting our colleagues to instruct us, to instruct senior officials to move forward. It is difficult to be clear about what the outcome will be. But I’m going to Paris with a very strong conviction that we now need to move forward speedily and we need to set a timetable in that respect. 

Minister Crean: What we are trying to get out of Paris is building on the re-engagement decision that was taken at a recent meeting in Bali of the Cairns Group participated in by Ron Kirk from the USTR and by Minister Anand Sharma. Also present at that meeting as participants were the EC, China and Japan. So, it’s a commitment to re-engage that we want to reinforce in Paris. But we want to take it the next step, as Cathy has said, to send a very strong signal about the need for officials to meet through the various formats within the multilateral framework to resolve the outstanding issues, to try and move us to the end game. We sense a political desire to want a move to the end game. We have to capitalise on it. In many senses, this is us acting on the direction that the G20 leaders gave us last November, which we haven’t until now, because of various elections around the place, been able to properly discharge. But we are encouraged very much by the commitment and we want to build on that in Paris.  

On the question of China, again, it comes back to the political will. I am convinced that China and Australia both want at the political level to conclude a free trade agreement. There are coordination issues that are in China’s domain that they need to resolve. So, we’re waiting for that to occur. In the meantime, we are not just waiting for the finalisation of the agreement. We are engaging actively in China at the commercial level. There are many areas of opportunity for us to develop cooperatively with China and what we’ve been seeking to do is to engage at the regional level as well as at the level of Beijing. The interdependency between our two economies is huge. China is our second largest trading partner and the interdependency isn’t just in goods movements, it is increasingly in services and significantly in investment flows. What we need is an agreement that reflects the modern framework. But we don’t have to wait for that framework to be concluded to continue to develop the trade relationship at all levels. 

Journalist: Question for the Commissioner. Commissioner, can you tell us a bit more about how this mutual recognition agreement will reduce costs for European businesses doing business with Australia? 

Commissioner Ashton: It’s quite simple. I will give you a classic example. If you produce equipment which needs to be certified to fit the right standards, then we recognise each others’ standards. So, rather than, if you’re producing medical equipment for example, having to go through the process twice which is costly, time consuming and occasionally, you know, you will find yourself trying to fit into a slightly different regime, we simply mutually recognise each other. And we know from business that although it seems a small element, it can be hugely costly to businesses operating. So, it’s to try and tackle that.  

ENDS

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