Matthew Doran, Host: Well the Federal Government is hopeful a deal on a free trade agreement with the European Union could be settled soon after years of negotiations, a political spat with the French over submarines and criticism about Australia’s climate change commitments. A delegation of EU representatives met with officials yesterday, confident the impasse could be resolved. This matter and more, Trade Minister Don Farrell joined us earlier from Adelaide.
Don Farrell, welcome to Afternoon Briefing. Before we get into your discussions with the EU delegation yesterday, I do want to touch on the news announced today that Australia is joining this oil price cap – Russian oil price cap. Is that actually going to have any benefit on Australian oil prices, do you think?
Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: Look, cost of living is a serious issue in Australia at the moment, Matt. I think by putting downward pressure on Russian oil prices there will be some long-term benefits to Australian consumers. The rest of the world, or the free world is backing this ban. We want to join them. We want to make it very clear that we don’t support what the Russians are doing in Ukraine, and that we support a free and democratic Ukraine. This is one of the ways that we can join with like-minded countries and the rest of the world to put pressure on Russia and downward pressure on oil prices.
Matthew Doran: So it sounds like it’s a double-barreled situation there. There is the symbolism, but then you’re also hoping that it will have an economic impact as well.
Minister for Trade: Yes, well, you might recall one of the first visits that Prime Minister Albanian was made to Ukraine. We want to make it very clear that we’re fully in support of the people of the Ukraine in their fight for democracy and freedom. And we want to make it clear to the Russians that we don’t support what they’re doing, and we’re doing that by imposing this price cap on Russian oil.
Matthew Doran: Okay let’s get to your discussions with the European Union delegation, which is currently in Australia, looking at the prospect of a free trade agreement between the bloc and Australia. It does seem like there is a, shall we say thawing of the relationship between Australia and the EU now that there has been a change of Government. But is there really a prospect that this sort of deal could be sorted out in the near future?
Minister for Trade: Look, I’m very confident, Matt, that we can get a deal in good time. I had meetings with both the European Parliamentarians and the French Trade Minister in Canberra yesterday. Both groups were very, very positive about the prospects of a free trade agreement with the European Union.
We have to remember that it’s a $17 trillion economy with 450 million consumers. So it’s an important trade deal. We’ve learned in the past that we need to diversify our trading relationships and, of course, this is one of the key ones.
We’ve made it clear, of course, that there are certain things that we need to get out of this trade agreement, and one of those is greater access for our agricultural products. So that’s one of the points that we’re insisting on in this agreement. But all of the indications are that now the two impediments to an agreement – namely, the previous government’s approach to climate change and their cancellation of the Naval submarine agreement – are out of the way now. It’s very clear that they were the two impediments blocking a free trade agreement.
Matthew Doran: Let’s pick up on that issue of agricultural products getting greater access into the EU. That’s a non-negotiable for Australia. But is there a sign that the EU is open to allowing that? Because we know that the agricultural sector in particular when it comes to the European Union can be a tricky area to broach.
Minister for Trade: Look, we’ve made it very clear that there are some things that we need in this agreement, and access for our farmers to agricultural markets in Europe is one of them. We want a free trade agreement with the Europeans. There’s lots of things that they want from Australia, particularly in the area of hydrogen and critical minerals. So we’ve got something to trade with. But there are some things that we need to get out of this agreement so that it makes it worthwhile for Australian farmers in particular, and we’re going to insist on those in these negotiations Matt.
Matthew Doran: Do you have concerns about agricultural subsidies going to primary producers in the EU and how that might affect the market balance?
Minister for Trade: We’ve got a population of 26 million. We produce food for 70 million people. We do it without subsidies, and I believe our products will be very competitive if we can get access to those European markets.
Matthew Doran: What about the issue of geographic indicators or, as people might more easily know them – they go down to their supermarket, they buy a block of feta cheese to make a salad or something like that – what about that issue there about the EU being quite particular on wanting sole ownership, I guess you could say, about some of those names and stopping international producers using them? Has there been any movement on that issue?
Minister for Trade: Look, these are a set of negotiations. Of course the Europeans have some issues which they want on the table. You’ve mentioned one of them – the geographic indicators for things like feta. They also have some issues about our luxury car tax. Just as we’re entitled to put issues on the table, so are the Europeans. But I’m confident that the goodwill that I saw yesterday in both my meetings with the European Parliamentarians and with the French Trade Minister, that there’s a heap of goodwill to get this agreement up. We’ll work through those issues, and I believe at the end of the day we’ll have a terrific free trade agreement with the Europeans.
Matthew Doran: So goodwill there on display from the delegation that’s in Australia. You’ve pointed to the fact there’s been a change of government and there is a shift in climate policy. There is, I guess, the Parisian rapprochement on the issue of the submarine deal there, but do you think as far as goodwill goes, when you’ve got such a complex deal, that those hurdles can actually be overcome?
Minister for Trade: I am confident of that, Matt. We’ve got a wonderful trade negotiator in Alison Burrows, one of our most experienced trade negotiators, and the things that were blocking the resolution of this free trade agreement have now been removed. There was almost an audible sigh of relief from the Europeans about the change of policy on behalf of the Government. I’m extremely confident that we’ll get an agreement that’s a good agreement for Australia, but also in a timely fashion.
Matthew Doran: Well, Don Farrell, we’ll wait to see whether or not your optimism and confidence does, in fact, shine through in this situation. Thanks for joining us today at Afternoon Briefing. Many thanks.
Minister for Trade: Thanks Matt.