Interview with Jaynie Seal, Sky News

2 April 2022

JAYNIE SEAL: Returning to our top story. Landmark free trade deal sees tariffs lashed on a range of Australian exports to India. Minister for Agriculture David Little proud joins me live. Thank you for your time, Minister. A historic big deal is to be signed this afternoon. What does it include?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, this is a landmark deal, one in which I think many of our trading partners are looking on enviously. We've been able to crack the nut in every sense of the word. This means that this interim agreement will cover around 90 per cent of Australian current agricultural exports to India. Some will be seen tariffs removed straight away. Some will be phased away in over seven years. We'll see increased quotas. So this is really good news. This is Free Trade Agreement number 16, just after we sign the UK Free Trade Agreement. I've got to say, Dan Tehan has done an outstanding job to get us to where we are. And obviously, this sets up as a stepping-stone further access for us. And my Agricultural Council has been able to remove much of the technical barriers that are there for some of our other commodities as well.

JAYNIE SEAL: You didn't crack the nut, though, on three major industries, including chickpeas. Why have chickpeas been left out?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, we wouldn't have got a deal. So do you cut your nose to spite your face or do you actually work constructively setting up an initial deal with them? And obviously, we'll work through these other commodities as time goes by. But you don't cut your nose to spite your face and other industries miss out. This is something that would not have got through the Indian Cabinet if we demanded for chickpeas to be in this deal. But we have been able to get barley and other cereals included in this, and we've already been able to get better market access and technical barrier removal for barley into India. So we've already shown good intent in terms of dealing with us. But you never go in the pursuit of the perfection. If you want to stick to that, you'll miss a lot of opportunity and you'll miss over 12- 13 billion worth of opportunity for Australian Agricultural Exports.

JAYNIE SEAL: Minister, you were disappointed in 2018 by the Indian government's decision to slap a 60 per cent tariff on chickpea imports. What is the chance that you can get India to cross the table and include chickpeas?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Look, nothing in the short term, this is an interim agreement, and obviously we'll continue to work on chickpeas and other products in trying to get better market access, but really, there aren't too many people, countries in the world that have been able to achieve this. So I think this is probably the biggest stepping stone in any country's ever been able to achieve. With India, one of the fastest growing economies, the largest democratic country in the world. This is a landmark in every sense of the word. And it's also about people to people. In fact, Dan Tehan has informed me that India has been invited to participate in the AG visa, which is also a very significant step now that we've signed up Vietnam.

JAYNIE SEAL: Correct me if I'm wrong, but chickpeas are under a tariff, but lentils are not at the moment?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: That’s correct. And that's mainly because of the stockpiles in which the Indian government has. And obviously, they have political challenges domestically around the fact that more than 50 per cent of their population work in agriculture. Chickpeas is one of the most significantly produced commodities in India. And so we obviously are working with them as quickly as we can and try and get them to appreciate that we're never going to flood their market. We're a nation of 26 million people. We only produce enough food and fiber for 80 million people. So, we're trying to help the Indian government appreciate that Australian agricultural products will not flood their market, will not have a significant impact on Indian farmers, but they'll be able to have access to some of the highest quality produce in the world, and particularly chickpeas. But that's a conversation we'll continue to persevere with. But we weren't going to throw this agreement out for just one commodity. That wouldn't be in the best interest of Australian agriculture.

JAYNIE SEAL: It is a historic deal, as you mentioned, the details are not quite clear. When will we get more information?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Well, as soon as the Prime Minister's sign on the dotted line this afternoon, but pretty well you can see from the announcements made earlier from our side is that particularly wool, sheep meat, lobsters will have immediate effect. Most of the commodities will come down and phase down over a seven-year period, some of which will also mean that we'll get increased quotas in terms of what quantities we can send into India. So this is, as an interim agreement, quite far reaching, but obviously a stepping-stone, and that's the way we're treating it. But we've got to be careful and understand the domestic situation in India about how we can continue to get the Indian government to appreciate that we can't flood their market. We can't produce enough to ever have any impact on domestic markets in India.

JAYNIE SEAL: Minister, the first bilateral memorandum of understanding of the agriculture visa program with Australia and Vietnam was signed this week. Tell us about the program.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Yes. So this basically now means that we moved to implementation stage. Vietnam signed up to the AG visa – the four-year visa. Then there will be a pathway to permanent residency that we'll work through. That will most likely mean that they'll have to do a further two to three years in regional-rural Australia and in agriculture because we believe that they'll put their roots down and they won't want to move off to a capital city. And that's what we're trying to do is to bring in the next generation of migrants to build regional Australia and grow regional Australia. So we're now working through with those approved employers. We've already started the process. We've started this in anticipation and so now we're working through this process to sign contracts - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with these approved employers and labor hire companies and then also with the Vietnamese government to identify these workers. So, this will be an uncapped program. There's been a lot of talk but what will probably see is that we'll see a first trial of 1-2 thousand come in as quickly as we possibly can, better down and then continue to grow. But effectively, it's an uncapped program, it’s demand driven and therefore farmers will have the opportunity. We're hoping that other countries now that Vietnam sign will also sign up as well.

JAYNIE SEAL: Minister, you say around 1-2 thousand soon. Can you give us an indication of exactly when and will they be skilled, unskilled or both?

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Probably unskilled in the short term. They're easier to obviously identify at the moment in terms of trying to bring people in, but obviously we would like to bring in as many as we possibly can. The Vietnamese government we're working through with those and DFAT. DFAT continue to hold this and it will depend how quickly DFAT can get those deeds signed between themselves and the approved employers that they've already identified. So it shouldn't be a big job for DFAT to be able to do that. Once they've got that, then effectively it's working in country, in Vietnam identifying those workers, making sure they understand also we're rolling out new programs to make sure they understand the protections that they are afforded here in Australia, that they do have rights, and that if they feel as though they're being exploited the mechanism is there to protect them. So that's happening quickly, and it will depend on how quickly DFAT can sign on those deeds and then it's in essence bringing them in as quickly as we possibly can.

JAYNIE SEAL: Some big announcements and we look forward to hearing more. Always great to see you. Thank you very much for your time, Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud.

DAVID LITTLEPROUD: Thanks for having me.