Wednesday, 13 May 2020
Questions without Notice
Trade with China
My question is to the minister for trade, Senator Birmingham. In recent days, China has restricted red meat exports from four of Australia's largest abattoirs and signalled that Australian barley exports may face a tariff of up to 80 per cent. Has the minister yet been able to secure a conversation with his counterpart in China regarding these issues?
I thank the senator for his question. As I've said publicly, we have requested dialogue and I have requested dialogue and discussions with my counterpart. We have not secured said meeting as yet. I would hope that that would be forthcoming. Nonetheless, the government is pursuing all possible avenues in support of assisting our barley producers and beef producers in relation to maintaining their market access to China. China has made clear, both publicly and privately, that these are technical matters of trade dispute that date back variously some 12 to 18 months in terms of issues with those particular businesses or sectors.
To take Senator Watt's question in the interjection there: I'm happy to say, in relation to barley, that it's an 18 month process, an antidumping investigation, that has always had a deadline of 19 May in terms of the determination of that. So why now? Well, if you'd actually followed the process you would understand very clearly that it was instigated some time ago. The deadline that is there is one that has been in place. We are working with the Australian barley industry to make sure we put a response in to the draft determination that is as compelling as possible, that is based on the economic evidence that Australia's barley producers, like all of our grain growers, are some of the most productive and efficient in the world. They do not receive trade distorting or market distorting subsidies. They do not dump product below production cost on global markets anywhere in the world. They simply produce at great volume, when the climate allows, and at high quality and with efficient prices and competitive prices, because of their skill and expertise.
The Dinmore meatworks in Ipswich in Queensland is the largest beef processing plant in the Southern Hemisphere. The plant is one of the region's largest employers, with more than 2,000 local workers relying on it for their livelihoods. Can the minister assure the Senate and workers at facilities like Dinmore that the government has dedicated to this issue the level of attention and resources it demands?
Yes, I can assure those workers. In relation to the four abattoirs that have had their permits to export to China suspended, those suspensions have been as a result—according to Chinese authorities—of irregularities or discrepancies in relation to labelling standards and the like against customs and quarantine matters. We are now working intensively with those processors to make sure that the evidence is provided back as to how they have rectified any of those discrepancies and how they have put in place effective processes and procedures to make sure that they are not repeated again in the future. I would note that, in 2017, there were around six meatworks that faced a similar process as a result of actions by Chinese authorities. Those issues took some time to rectify, but rectified they were. And we will work as quickly and expeditiously as we can to see these are rectified as well.
What is the government doing to assist Australian exporters impacted by recent trade restrictions announced by China and protect the thousands of jobs currently at risk at places like Dinmore meatworks in Ipswich?
Obviously, just in relation to our barley industry and those four meat processors, I've outlined the types of steps that we're taking with those sectors to be able to respond to Chinese authorities in a thoughtful way, based on the evidence, that demonstrates that, as I say, Australia's barley producers operate in the most competitive of ways and in no way are subsidised by government to dump product into other markets. In the case of our meat producers, they produce high quality, high value product. They of course need to abide by the customs and quarantine requirements of any market to which they export, and, where there have been any discrepancies, we want to make sure, to uphold the standards and reputation of all of Australia's meat industry, that they have policies and procedures in place to be able to meet the standards and expectations of the markets to which they export.
More generally, as I've told the Senate many times, we continue to open new market access opportunities for many businesses, such as the ones with Indonesia that will come into effect on 5 July.