Trade with China

10 November 2020

Senator GRIFF :My question is to the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Senator Birmingham, and relates to trade with China. South Australian lobsters were among tonnes of lobster left decomposing on the tarmac in China, allegedly due to customs delays. The Chinese government has subsequently used state media to confirm export suspensions on several products key to South Australia's economy, including the highly sought-after southern rock lobster of which South Australia produces 53 per cent of Australia's 3,000 metric tonnes. Has the minister spoken with the Seafood Trade Advisory Group, representing the industry, to provide urgent assistance and, if not, why not?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Finance, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate): I, my office and my agencies have certainly spoken with a number of different seafood industry representative organisations, businesses and the like. In terms of the particular one you have referenced, Senator Griff, I will have to just double-check the consultation or engagement we have had there.

There is no doubt that this is an industry facing a very stressful and challenging time. I addressed some of those issues in this place yesterday, as I have publicly on a number of occasions. We take very seriously the interruption to the timely passage of live seafood through Chinese ports. The absence of timely passage is obviously threatening to an industry that has time-sensitive, high-value products that require such timely passage through customs processes. We don't deny the right of any importing nation to undertake appropriate quarantine and safety checks. Australia does so and we respect the right of others to do so. But it needs to be done in a way that doesn't impede the ability of that trade to occur. They are the representations that we continue to make to China in relation to this issue. We will certainly maintain pressure in terms of our expectations that any such processes or checks applied to any of our products—in this case, the live seafood trade—are undertaken in a manner that doesn't operate as a non-tariff trade barrier and effectively impede the trade, as appears to be occurring right now in relation to those products.

Senator GRIFF : Minister, it will be an economic disaster if China also refuses to accept South Australian mined copper, wheat, meat, seafood and wine. Can the minister advise the Senate of the total value of South Australian exports to China affected by these bans, and how many South Australian jobs could be at risk?

Senator BIRMINGHAM : I can advise that South Australia's exports to China in 2019-20 were worth approximately $3 billion. That had been a 12½ per cent increase on the previous year. Although we are seeing disruption occur in a number of individual cases at present and in certain sectors, like barley, at a more universal level, it is worth keeping in mind the fact that for the financial year not that long ago concluded we did still see record volumes of trade facilitated across a number of different product categories.

That doesn't downplay the fact that we take very seriously where we are seeing interventions that we think disrupt the free flow of trade and hurt the flow of trade for Australian businesses. That is why we are raising those concerns continuously with Chinese authorities, seeking through diplomatic or administrative channels responses that can provide greater certainty to Australian exporters. (Time expired)

Senator GRIFF : Minister, have you met with your South Australian trade counterpart Minister Stephen Patterson or, indeed, the South Australian Premier Steven Marshall to discuss how these bans will affect South Australian agricultural goods and what they plan to do about it?

Senator BIRMINGHAM : I have had discussions with Premier Marshall and Minister Patterson in South Australia, as I have had discussions with some other ministers at a state and territory level around the country. Obviously, they all shared the concerns that you have raised and that many Australians have raised in terms of the disruptive actions that appear to be being taken by some regulators in China at present, and the risks that those disruptive actions pose to the free flow of trade. In relation to your primary question, I can confirm that my office has had engagement with the Seafood Trade Advisory Group, as has Assistant Minister Duniam, who has particular responsibilities in terms of the fisheries sector and is also assistant minister in working with me. He has been engaged, on a very regular basis, in dialogue with me and also with the seafood sector, as we seek to work through these issues with them.

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