KIERAN GILBERT: Now, there has been mixed reaction to the Government's Japan free trade agreement. On some of that criticism from farming lobby groups and of course the Labor Party that say that the Government fell short of what they should have achieved, I spoke to the Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, for his reaction before he left Seoul, Korea last night for China.
ANDREW ROBB: If we waited for 100 per cent of people to be satisfied, we would have been like the previous Labor government and never approved any substantive agreement during our term of office.
KIERAN GILBERT: Now, one of your own MPs, George Christensen from Mackay, says there's been no improvement for sugar. He's expressed his disappointment. What do you say to people and concerns out of sectors like that?
ANDREW ROBB: Well, it's not correct. In fact, George rang me after he made those comments because he was in a remote part of Northern Australia and was a bit concerned that he'd got the bull by the horns. And so I did set him straight, and I think George will reinforce the fact that the sugar industry, the dairy industry, the grains industry, and particularly the beef industry have all had improvements. And the thing to remember is that the five sacred areas of rice, and grain, and sugar, and dairy, and beef Japan has never conceded to any country ever with cuts to their protective barriers around those five industries.
We have broken new ground here, and it does mean that we will lead the world, certainly in beef and to some extent in dairy, in horticulture. We will have advantages no other country has got. It's going to deliver immediately hundreds of millions of dollars to the agricultural sector alone, much less services and manufacturers and other advantages across all sectors. This is a wonderful agreement, and I think it's going to set the stage for many other countries to follow suit.
KIERAN GILBERT: Now the Acting Labor Leader, Penny Wong, has also been critical. She says that even after the tapering of the tariffs, the reductions over the next several years, that you're still going to be locking in high tariff levels after nearly two decades.
ANDREW ROBB: Well, the sad thing is that the Labor Party during their whole term of office failed to complete any of these free trade agreements. They've wasted seven years - seven years of profits and opportunity has been wasted, and now they've got the cheek to come out and try and criticise us. The fact of the matter is that our producers - our beef producers will see an eight per cent cut in the first year, two per cent the second year. They'll have within two years a ten per cent advantage over the United States and other major beef producers.
This is an unprecedented move by the Japanese. They have gone much further than anyone expected. It is a big start by the Japanese to start pulling away some of these previously untouchable tariff barriers and quota restrictions that they've had. We have broken new ground, and we should all be celebrating that fact.
KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Robb, finally, I know you've got to get on a plane and the focus turns to China. I want to ask you about that in the context of the closer defence ties with Japan fostered even further on this recent trip by the Prime Minister. Would you expect sensitivities in Beijing over that and should we therefore expect a longer time frame to secure something - a trade agreement with Beijing?
ANDREW ROBB: Well, the Chinese agreement was further behind the other two. I don't see any reason why we can't complete it this year, but we'll have to do a lot of work. We'll have to get up there quite a lot. And there's no substitute for fronting and talking to those on the other side of the table with integrity and with honesty. But there is a willingness, I think, by both the Chinese and ourselves of course to do a deal. Premier Li said about three or four weeks ago it was a priority to accelerate the Australian free trade agreement, and I'm very confident that we can pull something together by the end of the year.
KIERAN GILBERT: Trade Minister Andrew Robb, thanks for your time from Seoul. Appreciate it.
ANDREW ROBB: My pleasure. Thanks, Kieran.
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