Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much for coming along today. I'm thrilled to be here at Montague Apples with Scott and the team, talking about the opportunities we want to pursue under the ambitious Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement. As a Government, our Liberal National Government has over the last six years provided dramatic new access for Australian farmers and businesses to be able to sell their…
And across a number of other countries and that's seen Australia's exports boom in that time. We want to continue to create new opportunities for Australian farmers and businesses to export successfully into new markets, to more markets around the world. And that's the point of these European Union trade negotiations.
We're taking the next step today in the EU Free Trade negotiations which is to release the Public Objections process around the geographical indications of terms that the EU wants to have protected. In the end any trade negotiation is a two-way street. We want better access in terms of Australian farmers and businesses into the EU. They want some particular terms protected for their producers. So we're putting those terms out there and asking Australian industry to tell us what they think, to tell us their concerns and to arm us with ammunition so that we can negotiate the best possible outcome for Australia.
There's an enormous potential upside with the EU negotiations. It's a market of more than 500 million people, already our third largest export market despite the very heavy restrictions we face in terms of tariffs and quotas on our exports into the EU.
Take the apple industry for example – a 9 per cent tariff applies to Australian apples going into the EU, yet South African apples get in there tariff free. That puts our producers at a real disadvantage. But they're still there, selling around $3 million worth of apples each and every year and that, of course, is a market we hope to be able to grow through outstanding producers like Montague being able to export more into the future if we can get that tariff reduced or eliminated.
Our ambition is to see the vast majority of tariffs abolished as part of this process. But today, we know there will be some sensitivities with the geographical indications which has been released. That's why we're committed to this three-month process, to hear from industry, to hear their concerns. And I will be visiting dairy producers, cheese makers, spirits manufacturers – those who are affected by the terms on that list to make sure we hear first-hand their concerns so that we can most effectively stand up for their interests.
Ultimately, we will only do a deal with the EU if it's in Australia's national interest to do so, if our producers are going to be able to sell more, more effectively, and ensure that our economy continues to grow – to grow its exports, to create more jobs which has been the outcome of our trade agreement to date.
Journalist: Given the opposition then to the geographical indications, does that mean that if the EU won't back down on that, you won't be doing a deal?
Simon Birmingham: There's no guarantees that we get a deal. It's only a deal if it's a good deal for Australia at the end. Now, we're putting these terms out there which means we're willing to consider it, but we have to hear from Australian industry so that we can advocate to make sure that any terms that are protected are in the interests of Australia industry in the end, overall in terms of them getting better access to sell more goods and services in the EU
Journalist: You've previously been quoted as saying that that program was non-negotiable though in terms of the geographical program. Is that the case?
Simon Birmingham: In terms of the EU expecting that we go through this process and that we do agree to protect some terms – yes, that is their expectation and it's not negotiable. But what those terms are is absolutely a point of negotiation. And we will negotiate hard for Australian producers to get the best possible outcomes.
Journalist: So of the hundreds of terms they want protected, how many are you willing to let slide?
Simon Birmingham: The vast majority of the 400 terms that we've released are very precise, truly geographical indications that reference direct places and locations in Europe and probably won't cause much problems or concern, if any, to Australian producers. But there are some that are a bit more generic of their nature such as feta, and I expect that we will have to work hard, negotiate hard with the EU to come up with a compromise that's acceptable to Australian producers, whilst dealing with the European concerns and making sure that nobody's passing their product off as being Greek feta.
Journalist: So, will you expect they'll cave on feta?
Simon Birmingham: Now, I'm not going to predict anything. It's a negotiation process. What we're going to do right now is hear the concerns of Australian industry, then sit back down at the negotiating table with the Europeans and drive the hardest bargain for Australian industry.
Journalist: Some producers already say there's been a really core political process here in terms of giving too much away with that regard. Do you agree?
Simon Birmingham: We haven't given anything away at present. We're simply going through the process, and what we will do is drive the best possible bargain. And there'll only be a deal if it's a deal that on the whole is in Australia's national interest, getting more access for our farmers, our businesses – to sell more goods and services into the EU at a better, more competitive rate.
Journalist: After this consultation period's done, how long do you then expect negotiations to unfold after that?
Simon Birmingham: I hope that we may be able to conclude negotiations sometime next year. It's still a long way to go in terms of getting the best possible terms and deals, and dotting all the i's and crossing the t's of a comprehensive trade agreement. But there's goodwill from the European side as there is from the Australian side to achieve more liberalised market access between the EU and Australia.
It is a huge market with massive opportunities. We want to make sure that Australian businesses, farmers can diversify their exports, grow their exports and so the European market is well worth going after in that regard.
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