• John McDonnell

Tehan joins PM jetting off for northern summer trade talks


Trade Minister and member for Wannon in western Victoria, Dan Tehan

Dan Tehan is off to Europe for a fortnight of trade talks. He will attend the OECD trade ministers meeting and the G20 trade ministers meeting in Paris and then fly to Brussels for another round of negotiations on the EU free trade agreement.


Apart from this, he will be working overtime to mollify the Europeans who are out raged at the abrogation of the French submarine contract.


On Wednesday, at the Press Club lunch (held under Covid conditions so there is no actual lunch), he outlined his strategy for dealing with the issues that will come up.


Mr Tehan opened by making the observation that free trade promotes economic growth and better standards of living. He said Australia was working to create an open trading Indo-Pacific region. This was why he was starting his overseas trip by visiting Indonesia and India.


Australia always acts in its national interest, Mr Tehan said, but it also supports the international rules based trading system. Free trade agreements cover 70 per cent of Australia’s trade.


When it comes to economic statecraft, Australia has always been pro-active It actively pursues trade deals. China has now applied to join the Comprehensive Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The CPTPP is the gold standard trade agreement and China will have to engage in trade discussions with Australia if it wants to join the agreement.


In Jakarta, Mr Tehan will launch a blueprint for trade and investment by Australian firms in Indonesia. In India, he will release the provisional version of the free trade agreement with that country.


Mr Tehan will then travel to the UAE where he will discuss the prospects for an FTA


At the OECD he will press for WTO reforms in the areas of anti-Covid measures including reform of the intellectual property rules, reform on services trade, new rules for the digital economy and reforms to international fisheries regimes.


Mr Tehan has just signed off on the latest offer to Europe under the free trade negotiations. Officials will start negotiating on these before he arrives in Europe.


Trade with Europe strongly favours the EU with the main item being defence purchases. He says that Europe recognises this, and the French concerns should be seen in that context.


Trade is critical for Australia. One in five jobs, generally, and one in four jobs in regional Australia, is dependent on trade. The minister says Australia needs to use trade as a vehicle for peace and prosperity.


Dan Tehan declined to disclose the extent that he was consulted before the decision, to purchase nuclear submarines from America and Britain, was made.


On relations with China, he said he had written to the Chinese trade minister, suggesting that there be face to face talks on Chinese accession to the CPTPP. He was yet to receive a reply.


Asked whether he had an opportunity to raise the French submarine deal with the Americans with his French counterpart, Tehan replied that the discussions were conducted on a need-to- know basis. The French were not advised of the negotiations with the Americans, which were top secret.


He made the point that the EU saw the FTA as an important conduit for their entry into the Asia-Pacific region. If the EU can get an agreement with Australia, that will be a useful precedent for other agreements in the region.


Dan Tehan seems confident that the free trade talks with the European Commission will not be derailed and will eventually lead to an agreement. He is at the forefront of the diplomatic initiative, which is aimed at ensuring peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia Pacific region.