Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
Date: Tuesday, 19 May 2020
RICHARD QUEST: China is to impose eighty per cent tariffs on Australian barley exports. Now China can buy that barley elsewhere, but for Australia exporting that barley can create many more problems from that. The Commerce Ministry in China says it is following anti-dumping investigation that began in 2018. It also targeted some beef exports last week, calling it political retribution according to some. China is unhappy with Australia calling for coronavirus investigations. Mathias Cormann is with me. The Australian Minister for Finance joins me from Perth. Minister, good to have you. Grateful that you have given us time. I know you will say it is coincidence, that the WTO process was already underway, but it smells a bit doesn’t it. China puts these tariffs on, just as you get nasty over coronavirus.
MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a process that started some eighteen months ago. Under the World Trade Organisation framework anti-dumping investigations do happen on a regular basis in all sorts of different directions by countries all around the word. We are very disappointed with the outcome. We do not believe that it is appropriate. Farmers here in Australia are highly productive. They are not benefiting from Government subsidies. They are not dumping. We are exploring opportunities under the World Trade Organisation framework to appeal this decision and take it from there.
RICHARD QUEST: From Australia’s point of view as you look at the virus and the remarkable, extraordinary way in which it has been contained both in Australia and New Zealand that should allow a trans-Tasman bubble to be created for travel without quarantine and for the restoration of trade. How quickly do you think you can get a trans-Tasman bubble?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is one of the things that we are looking at. Right now in Australia we still have hard border closures between individual States. So in the first instance we want to see those lifted at the appropriate time. You are right, we have been winning the fight against the virus. The most important decision at the outset that we made was to impose restrictions on return travel from mainland China as of 1 February. That really slowed down the initial spread of the virus and enabled us to put significant responses in place and take all of the measures required to suppress the spread of the virus. But we are now in the phase of easing economic restrictions. What you are suggesting there is something that will be very popular no doubt, here and in New Zealand.
RICHARD QUEST: What about the sort of policies that you’re now going to introduce? Obviously there is an infrastructure plan already in the works. What more fiscal measures do you see you have room for to introduce to alleviate the worst of this? The country is going to suffer its first recession, technical or otherwise, in 30 odd years. But that aside, to ensure growth returns, what more can you do?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We have shifted our annual Budget to early October. What we are looking at, at the moment, is on the tax front lower taxes, less regulation, making it easier for business, lowering the cost of doing business in Australia, providing incentives to business to invest more in their future success so they can start hiring again. The easing of restrictions is the first game in town. The trajectory we are on at the moment we hope will bring 850,000 Australians back into the workforce over the next few months. Beyond that, yes there will be a comprehensive plan of lower taxes, more investment in infrastructure, less regulation, facilitating better access to markets around the world beyond our current free trade agreements. We are looking at further free trade agreements with Europe, India and others to provide better access for our exporting businesses to markets around the world. Recently, our free trade agreement with Indonesia came into effect. That has been an exciting development. But we will continue to work on that front as well.
RICHARD QUEST: On this free trade idea, is getting a free trade agreement with a post-Brexit Britain, I know it sounds very quaint when we talk about Brexit, which of course dominated our lives for so much of the last few years, but Minister how important is it? Is it still a priority for Canberra to get some form of post-Brexit free trade deal with the UK?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Absolutely. It is a high priority on both sides. We are very confident that it will happen swiftly. We want to have the best possible free trade agreement both with the United Kingdom and with the European Union. We have been engaged in a process with the European Union for a number of years now. So our preference would be to have a very strong, very attractive free trade agreement both with the UK and the European Union.
RICHARD QUEST: Good to see you as always, Minister. I appreciate it. It’s early for you in Perth. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you, Richard.