Interview with David Speers, ABC News Breakfast

6 November 2020

DAVID SPEERS: Now, let’s return to the latest crisis on our trade relationship with China, and the fears that key Australian commodities aren’t going to clear customs in China from today.
We’re joined now by the Agriculture Minister David Littleproud. Minister, thanks very much for your time. Look, firstly, are you able to confirm now whether these commodities – wine, lobster, copper, sugar, timber and coal – can you confirm whether they will or won’t be allowed into China?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: There’s been no formal notification to the contrary that our normal trading arrangements will take place. And while I understand and appreciate there’s a number of rumours going around, the last formal notification was is that the Chinese officials rejected any discrimination against Australian commodities, and we take them on face value. But we continue to work in Beijing, not only through the Department of Agriculture, my people on the ground there, but also, DFAT officials in making sure we get that clarification, that certainty. So, we’re working through it calmly, but there is a lot of rumours swirling around at the moment, it’s important we deal in fact, and that’s what we’re trying to work through with Chinese officials in Beijing as we speak.

DAVID SPEERS: Yeah. One of the difficulties of course is that Australia’s in the diplomatic deep freeze when it comes to China. I know that there’s no ministerial contact going on, unless you can tell us otherwise in the last 24 hours or so. But- so what are exporters to do here? If you were about to send tonnes of lobster to China, should they do it or not?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:  Well, obviously that’s a commercial decision that they’re working through with their local importers. And that’s why it’s important that we work in fact rather than rumour that builds in artificial market mechanisms rather than actual formal notification from Chinese officials or Australian officials. And that’s why I think it’s important we have a sense of calm over this until otherwise notified.
And I think that’s why we’re saying to Australian exporters, you need to continue to engage with your importers, you need to measure that risk – make no mistake, whether it be in China or any other market, you have to actually asses that risk and make a commercial decision. And we’ve given you other free trade agreements in which to send your product. And in fact, lobsters, before the free trade agreement came in place, 93 per cent of our lobster market went to Vietnam, and Vietnam still remains a very strong and close friend of Australia, not just …

DAVID SPEERS: Well, that may be, but we- sorry to interrupt. We are talking here about what’s going on right now with the China trade relationship. If they’re being told by the importer that there is a ban – that seems to be the case. Is that what the industry’s telling you, that they are hearing from the importers in China, don’t bother?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:  Well, we are talking about the here and now, David, and I’ll pull you up on that. And that’s why those other market access and free trade agreements are so important to give their ability to diversify. But this is…

DAVID SPEERS: So they should go elsewhere?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: No, I’m saying that gives them – as I just said – gives them the ability to diversify if they make an assessment on their risk. But they need to work with their importers, and importers are not giving any formal notification, because there’s been no formal notification by Chinese officials. So, we need to work through this calmly without the hysteria of media reports. But, obviously if circumstances change, then we’ll obviously act quickly, not only the Department of Foreign affairs and Trade but also the Department of Agriculture with my officials on the ground there as well.

DAVID SPEERS: Just quickly, can you confirm, that the report in The Australian today that there was a briefing for industry yesterday from Austrade; it included officials in Beijing and so on, and they were [audio skip] find another market, that things aren’t going to improve with China. Is that correct?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:  Well, I wasn’t in that, but I’m aware that there was a briefing, and we continue to have briefings with a wide-ranging degree of industries to make sure they’re abreast of circumstances – they have concerns about the rumours that are there. But we have always continually said that you should spread your risk, and we’ve made that clear by diversifying the trade agreements we put in place. That’s what a good government should do, is give commercial opportunities and for our exporters to make those commercial decisions. That’s what we’ve done; 14 free trade agreements are in place at the moment, and many of those were put in place under this government.

DAVID SPEERS: Minister David Littleproud, thanks very much for joining us.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD:  Thanks for having me, mate.