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Transcript of doorstop interview: Imperial Hotel, Tokyo: 4 April 2008



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The Hon. Tony Burke MP Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Transcript of interview with Australian media, Imperial Hotel, Tokyo 4 April 2008

04 Apr 2008 DAFF08/07tb

Transcript of interview with Australian media, Imperial Hotel, Tokyo 4 April 2008

E & OE

INTERVIEWER: Minister, I’ll ask you about the beef stuff from yesterday first. The message you are getting about beef and the market here in Japan. How worrying do you think it is for Australian producers having US product back in and on the shelves?

MINISTER: The thing that can easily be forgotten is that when the United States left the market, the total beef consumption here came down. So the key issue for us is we will have competition from the United States, but if we can make sure that that’s in a context where we can restore beef consumption to previous levels, then Australian beef, as a product, will still be moving ahead in leaps and bounds. So, yes, there are challenges with every competitor and, principally in this market we do compete with other importers more than competing with the domestic product. But it needs to be seen in the context that when the United States left the market the total beef production fell, and that means that we were never able to completely take over the section of the market that they’d previously occupied.

INTERVIEWER: Has food safety been something that you have been looking at during this visit? It is a big issue here in Japan at the moment.

MINISTER: Very big. I wasn’t familiar with the concept of seeing meat in a supermarket that had a number and depending on the level of premium you could trace the beef there either back to the property, back to the paddock, or in some cases of the absolute premium beef, back to the animal from the consumer level. So those concepts of traceability and food safety are, while food safety is an important issue throughout the world, and an important issue Australia as well, there is certainly a level of detail that people often want to know here that is quite unique to the Japanese market.

INTERVIEWER: That traceability system is becoming national in Australia… (inaudible). Do you see any advantage in it as a marketing tool in markets other than Japan?

MINISTER: NLIS, as well as being a market tool, has some significant biosecurity impacts as well. Certainly when equine influenza came into the country we would have liked to have had the level of information about horses that we have had (inaudible) about cattle. So, NLIS has a number of roles, and traceability is but one of them. Issues of food safety continue to grow and as you get the world becoming wealthier and demanding in what it is wanting from its food supply, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we see an extension of it. But I have to say, I haven’t seen it to the extent that I have seen it here, in other markets.

INTERVIEWER: You spoke to Minister Wakabayashi on Wednesday. What did you say to him about the Free Trade Agreement negotiations?

MINISTER: I have to say it was a good constructive meeting and a frank exchange of ideas. We had the opportunity to talk then, and then we caught up again last night at a function he put on, we were able to have a second but more social conversation then. The issues that we raised on

free trade was essentially to send a clear message from Australia that the Japanese request that the Free Trade Agreement not go to what they have put forward as key sensitive commodities - we were talking of beef, grain, dairy and sugar - that that’s something that Australia cannot agree to. We need to have an agricultural outcome as part of the FTA.

INTERVIEWER: So the position that the Japanese negotiators put last month which is exclusions for those products that you have mentioned plus rice, I think - that’s not viable as far as Australia is concerned for an FTA negotiation?

MINISTER: No, that’s not something that we can go to.

INTERVIEWER: The previous government told the Japanese fairly politely that a Free Trade Agreement without a substantial agricultural liberalisation component in it was not viable politically and for other reasons in Australia. Are you reinforcing that message here?

MINISTER: Well, certainly, I haven’t put it in political terms. I’ve put it in straight policy terms that it’s not an option for Australia to have an FTA with the exclusions that Japan is asking for. We want to get a good outcome for Australia’s farmers and that’s a critical part of us reaching an FTA agreement.

INTERVIEWER: When the negotiators left here last month they expressed themselves as being very disappointed with what had happened in that round. The talks resume in Canberra in May, I think. Would you expect or require a kind of movement from the Japanese side on agriculture in the next?

MINISTER: Well, we’ve made it clear in the course of this visit, as we did during the last round of negotiations, that what Japan was asking and the position that they put was not something that could be part of an agreement with Australia. So these negotiations as they go through round-by-round, the parties tend to get closer to agreement as the rounds go on. I’d certainly hope that we continue to move in that direction.

INTERVIEWER: You can’t have an FTA without agriculture as far as Australia is concerned, right?

MINISTER: Yes, that is the position that I’ve put.

INTERVIEWER:What was Mr Wakabayashi’s attitude to all of this? I mean, we here in Tokyo principally heard from the senior bureaucrat in his department before the last round of talks here, and it was what the Vice Minister said was very hardline. Is Wakabayashi’s attitude any more compromising?

MINISTER: Certainly any shift in position from the Japanese government will happen during the course of negotiations not during a minister-to-minister meeting. So the position that he put was the same as the position that his negotiators had previously put. And part of reaching mutual understanding between the two countries during the course of the negotiations is for positions to be put forthrightly, and then to start to work our way through where issues can be agreed on. But, for us, as I said earlier, we absolutely cannot agree to the exclusions that Japan is putting forward.

INTERVIEWER: Is there any ground for compromise on this? Once these things are on the table, then will Australia’s position be in-line with the indication the previous government gave in terms of special measures?

MINISTER: Look, the ongoing negotiation of this, as you would know, is carried by Simon Crean and not carried by myself. But it was important for me, given my representative role, not only in policy carriage, but more importantly with stakeholder interests in agriculture, to be able to put firsthand our position. And while Japan obviously wanted to advance some of the sensitivities that their farmers face, it was important for us to also be able to put some of the sensitivities that ours face. We’ve got parts of the country that are coming out of seven years of drought, or hopefully coming out of it, but we have certainly been going through seven consecutive years of drought in some parts of the country. There is significant adjustment required in key commodity areas in Australia in the face of climate change. We’ve got some big adaptation pressures that we have to

face, and so there are sensitivities at our end as well. The other thing that was important to make clear to the Japanese, though, is in the light of the adjustment that we are going through in Australia, there should be no fear of the Australian market flooding the Japanese market. We don’t have the capacity to do that. We certainly have the capacity to continue to improve our trade, we have the capacity to deliver in terms of our contracts and be a reliable supplier of a secure food supply. We can do all of those things. But any concern from Japan that Australia is somehow in a position to flood their market is certainly unfounded.

INTERVIEWER: Do you get a sense from - you are travelling with a group of industry representatives on this trip - do you get a sense from them how important they see pursuing these negotiations versus other business opportunities?

MINISTER: Well, principally, in their dealings with me, because of the quarantine and biosecurity role that forms the responsibility of an agricultural portfolio, most of the dealings I have with them are on technical barriers to trade, technical market access issues. So, whereas for the Meat and Livestock Association, MLA, that is out here, who are using their own office that they have based here, for them the formal trade issues that Simon Crean has carried (inaudible), for the horticultural people who are here with me, it’s technical barriers to trade that are a critical part of them trying to get market access. And some of it comes down to making sure that the protocols match the latest science, and so where there’s areas where the science has moved forward since the protocols were last adopted, to try to make sure that we can get better access. We are unusually well-positioned in terms of exports with horticulture because, for horticulture, by definition it tends to be seasonal and when our seasons go at the reverse of the seasons in this part of the world, we’re able to provide a significant source of produce at a time where it’s not competing with their local producers.

INTERVIEWER: When you are having the discussions with the Minister, are you making a counter-argument in terms of that, that Australia’s suppliers - and Japan needs food supplies, and it can have them from Australia, or Australian suppliers can sell them to someone else?

MINISTER: In the course of discussions there’s a level of politeness, tact and diplomacy which is appropriate and so I prefer to build on the long-term good relationships that we have with Japan. Japan has in so many commodities delivered on offering Australian producers good long-term contracts and I talk in terms of how we can build on that, rather than talk about things going in the other direction. The Japanese Members of Parliament whom I have met with are very conscious, as I think most governments and nations that are food importers, are very conscious of the global pressures on food supply at the moment. And people are aware of it, and it forms some of the background to people’s thinking, I don’t doubt at all, but it’s certainly not the way that I have chosen to advance the Australian Government’s case.

INTERVIEWER: Would it particularly hurt Australia’s agricultural trade with Japan if there weren’t an FTA? Or indeed would it particularly hurt Japan’s supply of agricultural goods from Australia if there weren’t an FTA?

MINISTER: At the moment we are working towards a win-win outcome. We are working on the basis that we will get there. And I don’t like going too far down the path of countenancing “what if everything goes wrong” in the sense of it’s not my personal style to spend too much time at looking at what would happen if everything fell apart. I’d rather look at the positives that are there. I think there are great opportunities here. Japan is a nation that needs long-term food supply. Here is a nation that is able to deliver on those contracts, that always has, and it’s looking to build an even closer relationship than we have had in the past. So the opportunity that we offer is one that I think is indisputably in Japanese interest, and that’s the most important point to get through during these discussions.

INTERVIEWER: I understand that the Japanese negotiators again in the FTA process have increasingly raised the issue whether Australia could do anything to guarantee or underpin security of food supply, the issue you’ve just talked about. I understand also that the Australian attitude is that there is a good customer-to-supplier relationship here. The Japanese are regarded as premium customers so they’ll always be at the head of most queues. But there is not much else that Australia can do, especially in an official sense since it is a private sector activity. Is there

anything further that Australia can do to reassure the Japanese and perhaps get a better overall agricultural outcome by doing something as far as security of supply?

MINISTER: Ou best guarantee is our record. We’re a country that has record of being able to deliver on long-term contracts and, in particular, a record that Japan hasn’t found from everybody who exports to them. So, they’re very much aware of that, and the best way to be able to guarantee long-term supply is through long contracts, and the best way to deliver on long-term contract is to have good open trading conditions, so I see the FTA as inextricably linked with the issues that you raised because it provides the best set of trade conditions. If we get a win-win, you’ve got the best platform you could hope for to deliver on long-term contracts. And the Japanese market knows well that if they have a long-term contract with Australia, that we’ll deliver on it.

INTERVIEWER: Mine’s a little bit away from this. It’s not technically part of your portfolio but it is part of Minister Wakabayashi’s portfolio - whaling. Did you have to have a bit of a chat about that in the discussions?

MINISTER: Yeah, and I expect it was similar to discussions that my other colleagues have had when they’ve had their visits to Japan. The positions of the Australian Government and the Japanese Government are very different. We each put our positions and put them clearly, and acknowledge that there is no intention for the difference of opinion that we have on that issue to interfere in the good relationship that we have, or to interfere with other bilateral issues.

INTERVIEWER: Is there anything you can say, as Agriculture Minister, in regards to Australia’s whaling policy under your portfolio when you talk to Japan’s Agriculture Minister?

MINISTER: In a portfolio sense, no, we don’t regard it as a fishery and so, in a portfolio sense, no, and the Minister acknowledged that at the beginning of the discussion, that it was not technically my portfolio, but wanted to use the opportunity, speaking from one minister to another, to advance the case of the Government, and so I responded with the Australian position, and fairly soon we moved on. But, yes, that was part of the discussions, it was certainly something that he thought was important to raise, and something where we were both fully aware, at the beginning of the conversation and at the end, of the difference in position on those issues between our two governments.

INTERVIEWR: Broadly, whaling is part of a suite of almost coincidental issues, including the arrival of your Government, which has generated, looking at it from here, it seems to be an unusual degree of sensitivity in Japan, especially in official Japan, where the Australian Government is now going. Have you noticed that degree of sensitivity in your talks with officials and ministers and, if you have, what have you done to reassure them or inform them about what Australia is doing at the moment?

MINISTER: Well, I tell you, from everything that I’d read before coming here, I expected it to be a front and centre issue. I haven’t had the concerns of there being a concern with our Government raised with me once in any official meeting, or when I say official meeting, or unofficial. In formal and informal channels, nobody has raised that concern. People are aware that we’ve only been in office a bit more than a hundred days, and I’m the fifth cabinet minister to arrive. People are aware that the Prime Minister, as well as being here for the multilateral talks on the G8, is also coming for an extra bilateral visit, and the understanding of the good relationship between the governments is something that has simply been acknowledged with me as fact, and never once raised as though it was in any way under threat.

INTERVIEWER: You haven’t been tested on your Mandarin speaking skills or anything like that have you?

MINISTER: No, no, I haven’t.

ENDS