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Don’t mention the trade war

May 22, 2020 • 14m 49s

The Morrison government’s excitement about a coronavirus inquiry cannot cover over the trade war opening up with China.

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Don’t mention the trade war

229 • May 22, 2020

Don’t mention the trade war

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

The Morrison government was elated by a resolution - passed this week - to investigate the outbreak of coronavirus internationally.

But its excitement can’t cover over the trade war that’s opening up between China and Australia.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on why the prime minister doesn’t want to talk about what’s happening with our largest export partner.

--

RUBY:

Paul, let’s start with the inquiry into coronavirus that was endorsed this week. What happened?

PAUL:

Yeah, so Ruby, this is a motion that went to the World Health Assembly - it was a virtual assembly - calling for an impartial, independent and comprehensive investigation of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Archival tape -- reporter:

A meeting of the World Health Assembly will tonight vote on a call for an independent inquiry into the cause of the Coronavirus pandemic.

PAUL:

It won unanimous support, including a vote from China.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Members of the World Health Assembly including China voted unanimously in support of an inquiry into the Covid-19 pandemic, following calls from world leaders including Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

PAUL:

The Morrison government really saw this as a big victory. They'd had a lot of criticism over their push for an inquiry. So they treated this as vindication. Marise Payne, the foreign minister, said it was a win for the international community.

Archival tape -- Marise Payne:

Well, we need to know the sorts of details an independent review would identify for us about the genesis of the virus, about the approaches to dealing with it and addressing with it about the openness with which information was shared about interaction with the World Health Organisation into action with other international leaders. All of those sorts of things will need to be on the table.

RUBY:

And Paul, in reality, how much is this a win for Australia?

PAUL:

Well, you'd have to say not much at all. Just at the moment the government was claiming vindication, China issued a terse one paragraph statement that called Australia's grandstanding a joke. If anything encapsulates how fraught relations are with our biggest trading partner, this was it. The claim that the world backed Australia's calls for an independent inquiry into the Coronavirus pandemic is without doubt an overblown bit of self-congratulation.
For one thing, the resolution was not ours. It was proposed by the European Union and Australia was just one of 137 countries that co-sponsored it. We were active, but it was along with others in hammering out the final wording of the resolution.

RUBY:

Did China have any specific points to make about how Australia has tried to frame the establishment of this inquiry?

PAUL:

The Chinese embassy said the draught resolution was totally different from Australia's initial proposal, and that wasn't far off the mark. In the adopted resolution China's not targeted or mentioned by name; the virus is. There's also no timelines on its beginning. And there's no inquiry independent of the World Health Organisation either. The W.H.O. will play the facilitating role in setting it up, despite Foreign Minister Marise Payne saying last month the review shouldn't be conducted by the W.H.O. because that would be a compromised. investigation.

Archival tape -- Marise Payne:

As I said, that strikes me as a bit of a poacher and gamekeeper.

PAUL:

And there's definitely no suggestion of health inspectors with weapons inspector type powers, which you might remember Scott Morrison had earlier proposed.

Archival tape -- Marise Payne:

And we need to have that sort of ability. So that's why I am an advocate of that case...

PAUL:

The Chinese embassy said a close look at the draft can easily show that Australia's proposals didn't win endorsement. China's statement said that all those who know the consultation process that led to the resolution understand this.

RUBY:

Right. And this is something that we've talked about on the show a few times. Morrison's push for this inquiry and China's reaction. What was the response to this latest assessment from the embassy?

PAUL:

Well, our longest serving foreign minister, Alexander Downer, was shocked at the strength and rudeness of this response. He told RN breakfast that he didn't think it reflected well on China.

Archival tape -- Alexander Downer:

That's not the way to behave in international diplomacy, refusing to speak the trade balance to that...that sort of way. But eventually they will. They will eventually.

PAUL:

He said Beijing had to learn that this warrior, Wolf, diplomacy leads nowhere any good for China. Downer praised Morrison and paying for doing what he said was a fantastic job and getting what they wanted.

Archival tape -- Alexander Downer:

China is very difficult to deal with, and my whole experience of China is they will attempt to bully you as hard as they can...

PAUL:

But this view, Ruby, is certainly not shared by other foreign ministers, former foreign ministers such as Julie Bishop and Gareth Evans. Nor does it impress everyone on the government backbench. Ironically, China Hawks, including Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, attacked the outcome for being watered down and not having a reference to China. Others believe Morrisson unnecessarily provoked China at the expense of our farmers and primary producers. The trade war, you know, this has sparked could be devastating for Australia. And they all know it.

RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Paul, the other part of this goes to trade with China and the threats that were made by time there are about boycotts when the inquiry was first proposed. So what has happened there?

PAUL:

Well, Ruby, I have to tell you that this is a trade war that you're not allowed to mention. I probably shouldn't be talking to you about it. Scott Morrison certainly doesn't want to mention it - he's been in hiding all week hoping to minimise the fallout. And he's left the explaining and fancy footwork to his ministers.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Simon Birmingham is the Federal Trade Minister and he joins us now from Canberra - Simon thanks for your time this morning...

PAUL:

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham went on The Today Show on Monday and his tone was definitely conciliatory towards China.

Archival tape -- Simon Birmingham:

These are administrative processes that China's running, the equivalent of our anti-dumping commission and we've got to engage with them and we've got to engage with that professionally...

PAUL:

But afterwards, his office, when it released a transcript of the interview, unwittingly blew the minister's cover. Among the topics listed at the top of the transcript was “trade war with China”. And that's despite the fact the minister went out of his way to avoid using that phrase.

Archival tape -- unknown:

Are you seriously saying what's happening with barley beef, potentially dairy, wine and seafood is not linked to our Australian government saying we want an independent inquiry into the origins of Covid-19?

Archival tape -- Simon Birmingham:

Well China’s saying it's not and we have to respond in the best interests of our farmers...

PAUL:

Birmingham and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud spent the next two days denying that any such war existed. Littleproud, in fact, said Australia would not retaliate against China for imposing tariffs.

Archival tape -- David Littleproud:

Nah, look, a trade war benefits nobody.

PAUL:

And he told Sky News there were lessons to learn from China's trade war with the US.

Archival tape -- David Littleproud:

You only have to see what happened between the United States and China. There's no need for a trade war. We can work through in a fair marketplace...

RUBY:

Okay, so how real is this trade war?
Well, it's very real.

Archival tape -- David Littleproud:

Australia’s often difficult relationship with our biggest trading partner is once again in the spotlight this morning, with Beijing...

PAUL:

The day China endorsed the Corona virus inquiry and pledged $3 billion to assist its work. It also announced a whopping 80 per cent tariff on our barley exports for five years.

Archival tape -- David Littleproud:

Now, the tariffs will cost the Australian grains industry half a billion dollars...

PAUL:

Now, this trade was worth around 600 million dollars last year and about 90 percent of it comes from Western Australia.

Archival tape -- unknown:

China is ridiculing Australia…

Archival tape -- David Littleproud:

Yeah it seems that way Devena...

PAUL:

That state's grain growers are angry that they're paying the price for the federal government's fight with Beijing over the pandemic.

Archival tape -- unknown:

It’s extremely disappointing that we’ve had to cop the brunt of what seems to be a… political agenda.

PAUL:

The tariff is crippling - you know, it spells the end basically of that trade with this giant market. A little proud said Australia will lodge an appeal with Beijing within 60 days in the hope of convincing them that our farmers aren't subsidised or dumping their product below market rates. Otherwise, the messier and longer process of going to the World Trade Organisation will be pursued.

Archival tape -- unknown:

We've got a record of going to the WTO, to going to the umpire when we feel as though we haven’t been understood properly, and we will pursue that, but you’ve got to understand that will take time...

PAUL:

But Ruby, this gets very murky. Late last year, Trump and Xi Jinping hammered out a ceasefire in their trade war. The bitter takeout for Australia is it now looks like China has begun buying American barley and blueberries as part of the deal. So it comes down to this. We lined up with Donald Trump on this inquiry, lost our barley exports over it, and now America has gone in and picked up that market, or at least it sure looks that way.

RUBY:

So, Paul, what you're saying is we sided with Trump, which has angered China. But it turns out that behind the scenes it's the US that’s benefiting?

PAUL:

People within government and certainly within the agricultural sector believe this... It looks and smells like it.

RUBY:

So what happens now? What does the country do? Well, what can it do?

PAUL:

Well, Simon Birmingham assured Fran Kelly in his interview with her he'd be keeping an eye on where China started sourcing its barley from.

Archival tape -- Simon Birmingham:

We'll watch what happens in relation to the China market very, very closely at where and how they source their future barley and grains...

PAUL:

But just what Australia could or would do about it is far from clear. Both the superpowers are big enough and ugly enough to ignore the rules and in Trump's case, ignore his friends. [00:10:48] Well, next week, in a headland speech, Morrison says he'll outline the need for longer term reform, with a warning we can't revert to the way we were doing business pre-Covid. And the prime minister's certainly right in regards to China - the relationship's been on the slide in a serious way for much of the past three years. And Ruby, as I said, a few weeks back talking to you, that's never been worse.

RUBY:

Paul, thank you so much for your time today.

PAUL:

Thank you very much, Ruby. Bye.

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--

RUBY:

Also in the news -

There have now been more than five million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, after Wednesday saw the largest number of new cases recorded in a single day.

A large number of those new cases came from Brazil, which has become the third-largest source of outbreaks in the world, behind the United States and Russia.

In Australia there have been 7,081 cases.. with two new cases announced in NSW and four in Victoria. 6,444 people have recovered and the death toll remains at 100.

**

The Secretary to the Australian Treasury has said he expects unemployment to continue to climb through the next couple of months.

Giving evidence to a Senate committee yesterday, Steven Kennedy said that was because people who had left the jobs market altogether - and therefore had been excluded from the official unemployment rate - would be counted as they started to look for work.

**

And a draft plan from the National COVID Coordination Commission has been leaked, revealing recommendations that the federal government subsidise the expansion of the domestic gas industry.

The report also calls for an end to fracking moratoriums in NSW and Victoria, and suggests the loosening of environmental regulations and approval processes.

The National COVID Coordination Commission was established by the Prime Minister's Office to shape the country’s economic recovery... Several of its members have strong links to the gas sector.

**

7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper.

It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.

Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief.

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Make sure you don’t miss out by subscribing on your favourite podcast app.

I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

The Morrison government is working hard to disguise the trade war opening up with China. But its excitement over an inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak cannot cover over the fact our largest trading partner is turning away goods. Paul Bongiorno on the prime minister’s unhappy predicament.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno.

Background reading:

The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Make sure you don’t miss out by subscribing on your favourite podcast app. I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

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229: Don’t mention the trade war