Australia

‘What’s the point?’: Karl attacks new trade deal

China’s involvement in the world’s largest free trade deal has come under the microscope.Scott Morrison and Trade Minister Simon Birmingham on the weekend inked the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which will give Aussie businesses, education, health and financial sectors access to 14 other Indo-Pacific countries.But Today host Karl Stefanovic has cast doubt over the bid…

China’s involvement in the world’s largest free trade deal has come under the microscope.

Scott Morrison and Trade Minister Simon Birmingham on the weekend inked the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which will give Aussie businesses, education, health and financial sectors access to 14 other Indo-Pacific countries.

But Today host Karl Stefanovic has cast doubt over the bid to repair the broken relationship with China.

“What’s the point of a trade deal if China doesn’t play ball anyway?” Stefanovic asked Senator Birmingham on Monday.

“This is an important trade deal because at its core, and the people who led it and drove it, are the 10 Southeast Asian nations,” Senator Birmingham said.

However, the landmark agreement hasn’t secured him a call from his Beijing counterpart.

This is despite growing concerns that Australian beef, wine, barley and lobster producers are facing increased compliance checks at Chinese customs.

“I wish that were the case, Karl,” Senator Birmingham said with a laugh.

“We do want to see these types of regulatory disruptions stop.

“They are deeply troubling and they are causing pain to Australia.”

Mr Morrison told 3AW the government was “seeking to work through” Beijing’s complaints.

“There’s no doubt there are some tensions around particular commodities and exports at the moment … (But) China says very clearly this is not an act of retribution or coercion, so we will work with that and seek to resolve these issues as practically as we can,” he said.

Nationals Senator Matt Canavan told Stefanovic he was not holding his breath that China would adhere to the spirit of the agreement.

Senator Canavan said he could not appease the concerns of people in Queensland, who were concerned about the effect China’s trade tactics could have on their livelihoods.

“It is concerning, Karl, and there’s no point giving people false hope,” he said.

“I don’t think we should sell out our nation’s foreign policy if that’s the price to continue to do trade with China.

“It’s not worth it.”

However, Senator Canavan said the agreement would enable Australia to diversify and tap into new trade markets.

“What we’ve got to do … is get down to the business of developing other relationships as best as we can,” he said.

Chinese custom authorities last week suspended all timber imports from Victoria after beetles were found in shipments.

The move was another blow for the logging industry after Queensland timber imports were also brought to a halt due to pests at the end of October.

Crossbench Senator Rex Patrick has called on both federal and state governments to help the forestry industry become less dependent on Beijing.

“Current trade disruptions with China, be they related to meat, barley, lobster or timber, are not isolated incidents, rather they are a deliberate pattern of punitive measures with the Chinese Communist government putting politics ahead of fair trade,” Senator Patrick said.

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