PATRICIA KARVELAS: Steve Ciobo's the Trade Minister, and he's in Shanghai for the AFL matchup. Welcome.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to be with you, Patricia.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So, is our relationship with China in need of repair?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, our relationship with China is strong. Of course, our trade investment ties are broad, and they're deep, and I'm very confident that the relationship is one that will continue to go from strength to strength.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Australian company Treasury Wine Estates says their product is being delayed by Chinese customs. Have you got to the bottom of what's happening here?
STEVEN CIOBO: So the CEO, Michael Clarke, contacted me, I think it was on Tuesday evening of this week, and brought this matter to my attention, and indicated that Chinese customs are asking for some additional requirements around what they call certificates of origin, in relation to their product. So, having been alerted to this on Tuesday evening, I've mobilized, together with, of course, our diplomatic presence in China, to find out exactly what it's all about, and whether or not we could help resolve this. But I'll highlight, Patricia, that these things happen from time to time. Indeed, there's occasions in Australia, when we will stop product, Australian product, and make sure that we can do what we can, to verify the details about that.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Winemakers' Federation of Australia CEO, Tony Battaglene, says that other winemakers are having the same problems as Treasury. He also says he's told your office about this. Were you told earlier this week? That's what he's telling us, here at the ABC.
STEVEN CIOBO: Is that what he's telling you, Patricia?
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah, he's on the record, absolutely.
STEVEN CIOBO: Ah, well, my office spoke with Tony today, and he indicated something different. What he indicated, when my office spoke with him today, was that he had spoken to the agricultural counsellor, because he viewed it as a technical issue, not as an issue in relation to being a political issue. What you're saying is very different to what my office has been told by him today, so –
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, Carrington Clarke asked him, just to be clear, he told the government that this was an issue for other winemakers, earlier this week, and he said, "We were talking to agricultural counsellors earlier this week, and subsequently, we were talking to Ministers about this issue, and their offices." Then Carrington asked, "So the Government is aware, though, that this is not just a Treasury Wine Estate issue?" And he says, "Yeah, well, we're certainly, we certainly told them that."
STEVEN CIOBO: There you go, Patricia, that basically, absolutely correlates with what I just said to you. Which is that he spoke to an agricultural counsellor earlier in the week, and the agricultural counsellor, he raised it, he said, he raised it with the agricultural counsellor because he viewed it as a technical issue, not a political issue, and then, my office has reached to him today, when the ABC made this allegation that we've been told. I mean, look, frankly, I think that this highlights an agenda-
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But he did say, I mean, I just disagree, because he did say-
STEVEN CIOBO: This highlights an agenda, this highlights an agenda by the media to talk up the differences, rather than just report on what I'm telling you. What I'm saying to you, in very clear terms, is that I have spoken to Michael Clarke, at TWE, on Tuesday night. We're working to resolve that issue. Now, in terms of other issues that have been raised with agricultural counsellors, as they work up to me, if there's a problem there, I will work to solve them. But, frankly, it is not helpful for this continued focus, to try to present problems that aren't there, and I think that the media needs to have some responsibility for doing this is in a much more factual way, with less alarmism, and more relevance to actually what's being said, rather than trying to make up things that are not being said.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But haven't we just established here, that a wider group of winemakers are having these problems?
STEVEN CIOBO: Oh, well, what we've established is that there are some technical issues, which the Winemakers' Federation raised with agricultural counsellors. That's correct.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: They say that that was communicated with the government-
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that's what an agricultural counsellor is. This is part of the Government.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Yeah, so that means that you were made aware of this. Your office was made aware of this, right?
STEVEN CIOBO: No, it doesn't mean that. You would appreciate that there are, of course, thousands of people that have worked for the Australian Government. Now, what I'm saying to you, is that having had a conversation with Michael Clarke, of TWE. We're going to work to try to resolve the TWE issue, and get to the bottom of it, and if other companies contact me, I'm very happy to do that. Now, at this stage, the point that's been raised is that there's been concerns at a technical level. Now, let me highlight, there are always, in trade environments, technical issues that are raised. We stop products on the Australian border if we have technical concerns, and this is not something that I would describe as anything other than ordinary. Now, if there are other elements that are raised with me, which would indicate that it is in some way extraordinary, well, then, I will get to the bottom of it.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: So you’re saying, you don't think this is a political issue, you think this is just something technical?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, that’s what was, that's in fact what the Winemakers' Federation said. So they are the Winemakers' Federation words, not mine. But you know, Patricia, I just find it extraordinary that you and I can spend five minutes-
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I'm just asking some questions of Steve Ciobo! It's okay!
STEVEN CIOBO: No, but I know, but this is the point. But this is my point. What I want to talk about is the positives of a very strong relationship between Australia and China. What I want to talk about is that I signed and well, I didn't sign, I witnessed the agreement between Austrade, and the Chinese Bureau today, that's running a very big international exhibition here, for Australian exporters, which will take place in November. What I want to talk is all the Australian businesses that are having incredible success in dealing with China, but instead, there's this agenda to focus on small details, which often aren't even accurate.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: The state-owned Global Times newspaper described the Government's policy towards China as hostile. Why would that be the description, if relations are in good shape?
STEVEN CIOBO: So you ask me about, particularly, what is a Chinese tabloid, and why they've written that editorial the way that they've written it?
PATRICIA KARVELAS: It must concern you that the Chinese narrative is that this relationship is in trouble. I mean, you can tell me that it's not?
STEVEN CIOBO: But that's not the –
PATRICIA KARVELAS: But that's how it's being reported there.
STEVEN CIOBO: No, no. No, but hang on, that is not the Chinese narrative. That is the narrative of a particular publication in China, which has a reputation for being a little incendiary. My focus, and as a minister of the Australian Government, is upon the very close working relationship that we have, but that's not to paper over the fact that, from time to time, there are some differences. I've never pretended otherwise. But what we're focused on is making sure that we can continue to have a very cordial, constructive, broad trade investment relationship. We have that. I'm here in China, right now, my thirteenth visit in three years. The Australian Government will continue to work closely with the Chinese Government, in a range of areas, and that should be the focus of our efforts. Not on, what, as I said, what one publication has written in China.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: You told Fairfax Media earlier in the week that you're seeking meetings with Chinese Government officials. Have you got those meetings? Have you been able to have those meetings?
STEVEN CIOBO: Yeah. I've been very pleased to have had the opportunity last evening, I met with a senior official from the Ministry of Commerce, or MOFCOM, as it's called, but bear in mind, of course, that I'm in Shanghai, not in Beijing. So there isn't the same government presence in Shanghai. It's a little like Canberra versus Sydney. There isn't the same government presence in Shanghai, that there is in Beijing, but, very good meetings. And, as I said, today, had the chance to witness the signing of the MOU with the head of the China International Import Expo Bureau, which is a convoluted way of saying the Bureau are responsible for running what is going to be the biggest import expo that China has ever seen.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Of course, this AFL game is a big thing. Is there a strong vibe around all of that there?
STEVEN CIOBO: Look, I think that the work that the AFL is doing in China is critical work, and I welcome it very strongly. The reason being, because it's helping to continue to build those people-to-people links that exist between Australia and China. We have around 1.3 million Australians with Chinese heritage, and as the Prime Minister himself acknowledged today, he has two grandchildren with some Chinese heritage. So, getting this Aussie culture into China, I think, is a big positive. They're also investing in, and actually have schoolchildren, playing AFL in some of the schools here, as well. So it's about a long-term relationship, and I applaud them for doing it.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Finally, I mean, changing the topic entirely, but there's the big royal wedding tomorrow. Can't miss it, we've been covering it. When they got engaged, your sent a, suggested idea for where they go on their honeymoon, and you want them to come to Australia. Did you get any word back?
STEVEN CIOBO: I did write that letter, because I thought Australia would be a terrific destination. And I said at the time, Patricia, even for the stag night, as they call it in the UK, the buck’s night, or alternatively, for their honeymoon. Unfortunately, I'm afraid to say, I didn't get a response back from the Palace, so I don't think they'll be coming on this occasion, but you know what? Let's make sure we can invite them at some future point.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Why wouldn't they come? Don't they know how good the Gold Coast is, during this time of the year?
STEVEN CIOBO: Well, I'll keep them in mind, whether it's the Gold Coast, or not-
PATRICIA KARVELAS: I assumed it was to your own electorate, because I thought that would be-
STEVEN CIOBO: No, no, no, it was much broader.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Okay, fair enough.
STEVEN CIOBO: Much broader than that.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Steve Ciobo, thanks for coming on the show.
STEVEN CIOBO: Good to speak with you.
- Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555