Virginia Trioli: Moving from retail trade to global trade, US President Donald Trump has announced that he’s going to impose new tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese products from September. This announcement came after the latest round of bilateral talks showing no sign of a breakthrough.
Michael Rowland: Our Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is in Beijing at the moment trying to make sure Australia isn’t caught in the crossfire. He joins us now. Minister, good morning.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning Michael.
Michael Rowland: How much do you fear this latest move by Donald Trump will complicate your attempts to reach out to Chinese officials?
Simon Birmingham: This is a disappointing potential further development. We obviously hope that the talks that ensue over the next month do see this threatening tariff increase avoided. We have seen that from the previous escalation of tariffs and counter-tariffs between the US and China, that has slowed global growth. The slowing of global growth is bad news for everybody across the world, and so we really do urge parties to continue their dialogue and hopefully to avert this increase.
And for Australia, and what we’re doing here- yes, Michael?
Michael Rowland: Yes. How much do you fear Australia is going to be collateral damage in this clearly escalating trade war between China and the United States?
Simon Birmingham: Well, in short term horizons there may even be opportunities that occur as purchasing decisions shift, as goods between two countries increase in price as the result of tariffs being applied. But over the long term and even the medium term, what we’ve seen is that this trade war has hurt everybody around the world because it’s slowed down the rate of export growth. And in slowing down the rate of export growth, it’s slowed down the rate of global economic growth. That’s the analysis of the IMF and other international institutions, and so what we have to do is, as well as urging the parties to talk and try to resolve their differences, get on with insulating Australia as best we possibly can. And that really is the heart of the reason as to why I’m here in Beijing, having trade discussions not just with China but indeed in total 16 nations including Australia and China coming together to talk about closer regional economic cooperation, creating a new trading bloc that can build on the successes our government had in establishing free trade agreements with China, Japan, Korea, others that we’ve done regionally such as Indonesia, all of which have helped to underpin real growth in Australian exports which flows through to real growth in Australian jobs.
Michael Rowland: Okay. There is consumer concern about some of our raw material imports being held up in Chinese ports. Will you be raising that with Chinese officials?
Simon Birmingham: If the opportunity’s there, we’ll seek further clarification around the thermal coal exports from Australia into China and make sure that we better understand what is causing those delays. We’ll reinforce the importance that that be applied on a non-discriminatory basis, if there are additional checks or policies that are causing the delays. And what we want to do there is provide certainty to our exporters and to their Chinese customers so that we can continue to be as reliable a supplier of goods and products into China. But it’s important to understand our trading relationship is in an incredibly good position. The 2018 trade figures between Australian and China were at their highest level ever. They’d grown significantly off 2017, and through 2019 to date what we’ve seen in our own trade data is that we continue to record record export volumes, record trade surpluses on a monthly basis in many of the months of this year. And we’re going to keep working hard to ensure the relationship with China and with all of our other regional partners is as strong as possible.
Michael Rowland: The trade relationship might be in a good condition, but still China continues to do things such as lock up Australian writer Yang Hengjun. Will you be raising that with Chinese officials to try to secure his release?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we have made many representations at diplomatic level as well as through Foreign Minister Payne making direct representations. And if the opportunity is there of course I will reinforce the points that the Foreign Minister has made in her representations: that we expect him to be treated fairly, transparently, and importantly to be granted access to his lawyers.
Michael Rowland: You’re a senior minister. Shouldn’t you not wait for the opportunity and put that on the table in any talks you’ll have with senior officials?
Simon Birmingham: Well I’m here for talks that are regional trade negotiations, so most of my time here is going to be at the table not just with China but with all 16 nations at the table. But if the opportunity is there in private dialogue, then of course that’s when you take the opportunity to raise any of those mattes that are of concern. But we have to make sure that in all aspects of this relationship, we work constructively on the irritants and the problems that exist, but that we don’t overlook the fact that in many, many ways this relationship is as strong as it’s ever been and especially in terms of trade, economic ties, people-to-people movements between our two countries. We have seen enormous advances over recent years and we want to continue to advance those opportunities.
Michael Rowland: Okay and just finally speaking of irritants, the global community is certainly irritated by the crackdown on free speech in Hong Kong. Are you concerned- or is the Australian Government concerned about reports of Chinese troops massing on the border of Hong Kong? And also there’s this propaganda video released overnight by the PLA showing Chinese troops engaged in anti-riot exercises?
Simon Birmingham: Hong Kong is a very important partner to Australia. I personally signed last year a new trade agreement between Australia and Hong Kong. And that trade agreement is reflective of our recognition of the one country, two systems model that applies in relation to Hong Kong. We continue to urge for calm and restraint, and to monitor the developments in Hong Kong very closely.
Michael Rowland: Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks for taking the time to speak to us this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you Michael.
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