Interview with Edward Boyd, Sky News, Business Weekend

Edward Boyd
World Economic Forum 2023 Annual Meeting; Australia-China trade discussions; National Reconstruction Fund and industry policy priorities; Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement.

EDWARD BOYD, HOST: Assistant Manufacturing and Trade Minister Tim Ayres has spent the week in Switzerland meeting with officials on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum. And while there, he reached a breakthrough with the Chinese delegation. Both parties have agreed their senior trade ministers will meet virtually in coming weeks. It would be the first meeting in more than three years. I got the inside story with Tim Ayres a short time ago.

TIM AYRES, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TRADE AND ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR MANUFACTURING: G'day, Ed. It's good to be on the show. Every dialogue at ministerial level is useful and helpful. The new Government's made it clear that we're open to and keen to pursue dialogue on all of the issues in the bilateral relationship. Anthony Albanese's meeting with President Xi was an important juncture. There have been a series of other ministerial engagements, and this has been just another one of those. It is an important and useful development that there will be a face-to-face meeting of the Australian and Chinese trade ministers over the coming weeks.

BOYD: Yeah, do you get a sense that China are willing to eventually start reducing the restrictions on about $20 billion worth of Australian products exported?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, these impediments that have been put in place, put in the way of Australian exports to China are certainly not in the interest of Australian exporters, but they're not in the interest of Chinese consumers either. The best time to withdraw those impediments would have been - would have been over the last couple of months. We're encouraging the Chinese side to withdraw those impediments as an important part of stabilising the relationship. It's an important step that should be undertaken by China and I hope that that happens soon.

BOYD: Look, you've been at Davos for the past few days in Switzerland. What's it been like? Has recession been the main theme, or is it a bit more positive and upbeat than that?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, there's mixed views about the state of the global economy, but it is an important opportunity, I think, for those economic issues to be canvassed. There's certainly deep concerns about the impact of the - of Russia's illegal war on Ukraine, on the global economy, deep concern about inflationary pressures right around the globe. I'm not an economic commentator, but it's certainly the case that there's real pressure in the global economy and that the risks of recession in some of our key global partners have intensified not retreated over the course of the last few months.

BOYD: Yeah, I also want to talk about Australia as a place for foreign investment. Look, your government have recently introduced some price caps on coal gas and introduced a carbon price ceiling. Has anyone overseas been talking to you about those new policies? Aren't those changes making companies hesitant to invest in Australia?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: I don't believe so. Australia has got a very strong reputation around the globe as a stable place to invest. But even more importantly than that, the dialogue that I've been having with global companies that have got an interest in investing in Australia has been about the Albanese Government's industry policy priorities. It's been about the National Reconstruction Fund and the Powering the Nation Fund and the opportunities that creates for investment from Australian partners and overseas partners in industrial capability, in national infrastructure. There is a high level of interest in the industrial opportunities in Australia and that has been a high priority for the government. I've been really pleased to see it being reflected in the discussions that I've had with business leaders from around the world who see enormous opportunity in Australia. Our approach on energy more broadly, our approach on industry and rebuilding Australian manufacturing has garnered a very significant amount of overseas interest.

BOYD: On your trip, you're also heading to Italy to meet the newly elected Meloni Government. What do we mainly trade with Italy right now and are there any extra opportunities there?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, the purpose of my trip to Italy, it's really an add-on to this more multilaterally focused trade discussion here at Davos with the WTO. But it is an important opportunity here in Davos with EU Ministers and representatives and in Italy over the weekend and early next week to put the case over the Australian-EU FTA in particular, to make it really clear that we want to see an agreement reached soon with the EU. 

We want to see a high-quality agreement that provides market access for Australian businesses and in particular that deals with the questions of agriculture. And there are very significant impediments to Australian agricultural market access to the European Union. I'm very keen to make the case on behalf of Australian agriculture directly to EU Ministers, but also to governments like the Government of Italy, the new government. I want to make sure that they hear the case, the strong case for high-quality Australian produce and making a strong argument against protectionism and for agriculture market liberalisation.

BOYD: Yeah, let's talk a bit more about that EU Free Trade Agreement. I think one of the elements to it is Europeans want to protect some words like prosecco and parmesan. Parmesan cheese. Can you just talk to us a little bit more about that?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, there's a very strong position advanced by the European Union to protect what they call geographical indicator names. So feta cheese, parmesan cheese, prosecco. Your viewers will be familiar with - we now call – what we used to call Australian champagne, Australian sparkling wine, because our French partners had an objection to using the geographical indicator name for champagne. That spread to an approach that has been all about trying to remove the right of Australian producers to use geographical indicator names. Now, that is one of the last issues that will be resolved in the EU negotiations. It's a very difficult issue for a series of Australian producers. We've had representations on behalf of all of these, but in particular for prosecco makers in Australia. 

The truth here is that Australia hasn't gone to Europe and picked out these geographical indicators and applied these names to products that we make here. What's happened is European migrants coming to Australia, settling in Australia, have brought their wine varieties, their food processing techniques with them. And it's been an important part of our multicultural story, the development of an Australian food culture, an Australian agricultural production system that has got its roots right around the world. Now, these are going to be very difficult issues in the context of the agreement. And I'm very keen to make representations directly to the Italian government to make sure that the Australian voice is heard and to stand up, to stand up on behalf of Australian industry and Australian agriculture.

BOYD: And just quickly, how far off are we from coming to an agreement there with the EU?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, negotiations are very well advanced, and they are proceeding. It is always vitally important that we make it really clear to our friends in the European Union that we want to see an agreement with the EU. It's a very important market for Australia, but it's never an agreement at any cost. It's got to be a high-quality agreement. We want to see progress being made, particularly over those difficult issues in agricultural market access, but also more broadly across the economy. This agreement should see the growth of enormous opportunities for Australian exporters. It should see access to a whole range of products for Australia. We want to see an open trading relationship with the European Union delivered through this agreement, but we'll take the time that is necessary to make sure that this is a high-quality agreement that delivers for Australia.

BOYD: Well, Tim Ayres, is the Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing. Thanks for coming on the program today