Steven Ciobo plays down export delays with China, saying growth is ‘phenomenal’ | Australia news


Minister for trade Steven Ciobo has played down Australia’s “go-slow” delays and issues with China as merely an “irritant”, while insisting Australia does not have to choose between trade policy and national security when it comes to its Sino relations.

Ciobo, who was unable to meet his Chinese ministerial counterpart while in China last month, spent his press club address insisting Australia’s trade relationship with the economic superpower was not at risk. His address came as wine producers, who have been facing export delays, called on Malcolm Turnbull to head to China and heal any rifts.

Relations between Beijing and Canberra cooled late last year, after China was implicated in concerns the Turnbull government was raising over foreign interference.

Since then, diplomatic relations have soured, with Turnbull government ministers and others facing delays in obtaining visas to visit China. One of Australia’s largest wine exporters, Treasury Wine Estates, has also warned it has encountered export issues, with its products facing delays, labelled a ‘go-slow’ upon entry to China’s borders.


Late last month, China’s foreign minister played down a meeting with Julie Bishop and warned Australia needed to remove its “rose-tinted glasses” and engage in “concrete actions” to improve ties.

However the trade minister said he did not believe there was a major issue.

“I think it is important that we put some context around your phrasing of ‘go-slow’,” he said.

“If you look at the results of Australian exports to China, if you look at the investment from Australia into China over the past three years, the growth has been phenomenal.

“If you look at wine, for example, what started out as around an $11m export industry, has grown to more than $1bn worth of exports, you see this is the product of the government’s commitment to opening up those opportunities through the China-Australia free-trade-agreement.

“… So what you refer to is absolutely a trade irritant that is there, but when you put it in the context of where trade is going, when you look at the growth we’ve had in beef and wine exports, I think it is important that we don’t mischaracterise what is happening.”

Ciobo characterised the idea that Australia needed to choose between maintaining its sovereignty and standing up to China on the one hand, and its trade relationship with the nation on the other, as a “false choice”.

“It is not a trade-off between trade and national security,” he said.

“What matters is always the Australian government should stand up for Australia’s national interests and we do that.”

Ciobo also rejected suggestions he had contradicted Australia’s official policy on the South China Sea dispute.

The Turnbull government has maintained a consistent line on the issue, speaking out against the militarisation of the zone, as it increasingly becomes a flashpoint in regional relations.

But asked during a Sky News interview last month about an incident which saw a Chinese bomber capable of carrying a nuclear warhead land on the disputed territory of the Paracel Islands, Ciobo said it was “ a decision for China”.

“You might as well ask me should Russia do something with one of its submarines,” he said.

“I’m not going to get engaged in a commentary lecturing other countries about what they can and cannot do. I’m not going to engage in megaphone diplomacy with China, to talk about whether they should or should not land a particular aircraft in disputed territory.”

Reminded of his comments on Wednesday, Ciobo repeated Australia’s position – “that we don’t take sides in terms of contested territorial disputes”, but were “of course concerned at militarisation in the South China Sea by any of the claimants”.

“That has been our position for quite some time now and continues and remains our position,” he said.

“For me, as trade minister though, that is predominately of course the pursuit of the foreign minister and the defence minister.

“My focus is on our trade investment relationship. It is a broad and deep relationship with China. They are our major trading partner, it is a relationship that has grown substantially over the past three years.

“It is a relationship in which many Australians have their livelihoods invested in access to that market.”

Labor has joined Australian exporters in calling for the prime minister to travel to China to do what he can to mend the relationships.

Shadow trade minister Jason Clare said it was now taking up to two months for Australian products to leave China’s docks and reach its restaurants and stores.

“And that is new, it didn’t used to be like that, Australian wine used to go through in two weeks,” he told Sky News.

“This all started in April and what wine companies are telling me, what beef companies are telling me, they are experiencing the same problem as well, is that this is political.

“It is all to do with some of the clumsy and stupid things, the prime minister in particular, but others have said, over the past few months.

“… The way to fix this issue, is for Malcolm Turnbull to pick up the phone or get on a plane, and sort this issue out. Until he does that … this won’t be properly resolved.”



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