Coal tariff sparks FTA fears

10 Oct, 2014 03:45 PM
Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb.
A poor quality China FTA would lock in uncompetitive outcomes for Australian businesses
Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb.

FEDERAL Trade Minister Andrew Robb has downplayed concerns about potential eleventh hour impacts on the China-Australia free trade agreement (FTA) and agricultural exports, with the nation’s biggest trading partner set to impose new tariffs on Australia’s coal exports.

Mr Robb was also scathing of comments from Labor Shadow Trade Minister Penny Wong today regarding the Chinese government’s coal tariff plan.

Reports suggest China’s protectionist move will see a 3 per cent levy imposed on coking coal imports and 6pc on lower grade thermal coal from October 15.

A statement from Senator Wong said the Abbott government must tell Australians when it became aware of the measure, explain its impact on Australian exporters and the economy, and outline its response.

“It is imperative that any FTA with China does not trade away the interests of Australia’s agricultural, manufacturing and services industries or the integrity of our migration system, including labour market testing rules,” she said.

“The announcement of these new tariffs follows reports that Trade Minister Andrew Robb’s colleagues were talking down the chances that he would be able to negotiate a successful FTA with China.

“It also follows the comments by the Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce acknowledging that the Prime Minister had weakened Australia’s negotiating position by setting a deadline for concluding the FTA.”

Senator Wong said the prospect that China would impose protectionist trade barriers on coal was flagged publicly two months ago, but last night all Mr Robb could say was that he would seek clarification from the Australian embassy in Beijing.

“That’s not good enough,” she said.

“A poor quality China FTA would lock in uncompetitive outcomes for Australian businesses in one of our most important markets for years to come.”

But Mr Robb said the government’s objective to conclude a very good agreement this year remained unchanged.

“We are pushing for the elimination of tariffs on a wide range of agricultural items as well as on coal,” he said.

“The coal tariff issue is a bump in the road but it's certainly not the end of the world by any stretch.”

Mr Robb said Senator Wong’s attempts to portray herself as a defender and advocate of Australia’s coal industry “are laughable”.

“Neither Penny Wong nor Labor have any credibility in any debate about a China free trade agreement or supporting the coal industry,” he said.

“Penny Wong as Climate Change Minister spent her time in government doing everything she could to undermine Australia’s world-class coal industry by trying to force through a carbon tax.

“In regard to the prospect of China introducing tariffs on coal imports, had the Labor government been able to successfully conclude a free trade agreement with China during its six years in office, we probably would not be even facing this prospect today.

“Given Labor’s abysmal track record in government it is little wonder that trade and investment are issues that Penny Wong and Labor very rarely discuss.”

Following a recent trade delegation to China that included the National Farmers' Federation (NFF), Mr Joyce backpedalled on previous statements saying the China FTA could be sealed by the year’s end.

Mr Joyce said when Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Chinese president Xi Jinping are in same room during his scheduled visit to Australia in November, he’d like to see the FTA “as close as possible to completion at that point”.

But he said, “I wouldn’t hold any person to a timeline”.

“As you know, if I say I’m going to buy your house at 12 o’clock tonight, well then all the negotiations skills are in your hand because you can determine the price knowing I’ve stated publicly I’m going to buy a house,” he said.

NFF president Brent Finlay said the key take-home message from the six day China tour was about the high level of interest in Australian food and fibre due to our reputation for quality and safety.

“Everywhere we went in China they talked about food security and food safety,” he said.

“The interest and demand from agribusinesses and retailers and online businesses is huge in China.”

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


11/10/2014 9:23:04 AM

For goodness sake these deals are not free trade!!! I wish people would stop using the word free it is misleading. Free trade would mean we could buy land in China like they buy here; free trade would mean we put a 3 or 6% tariff on their imports to counteract the coal tariff!!
Jock Munro
12/10/2014 6:27:33 AM

Never mind about the Chinese Government tariff on imported coal and the Free Trade deal. Andrew Robb will just offer the Chinese more of our farms and infrastructure!
12/10/2014 5:11:33 PM

will quote an American I read over the weekend on this topic "at least u got resources to export. trick is to use them domestically and make products in Aust. then slap a tariff on anything from China. Oh and ask them to stop manipulating their currency or u will set a parity adjustment on anything that does enter the country" so how about it Mr Robb, lets make this country productive again? even an American knows what is best for us
Bushie Bill
13/10/2014 10:37:41 AM

Youn read a lot of weird stuff, wtf. Time to use your time more productively, don't you reckon?
13/10/2014 12:09:03 PM

i seem to remember u referring to the currency manipulation bushie, or have u forgotten?. Maybe u have had that divine intervention u mentioned a while back and have another suggestion, Im sure Mr Robb would be all ears for an astute POV from u. As I see it the American got it pretty right, nothing else seems to be working.
Bushie Bill
13/10/2014 10:03:31 PM

Don't trust your memory, wtf. Go back and check the facts, read what I wrote.


Screen name *
Email address *
Remember me?
Comment *


light grey arrow
Why do they forget the small producers they are the backbone of the industry. What. Did this
light grey arrow
Good these guys will be able to help the farmers they are treating like second class peasants.
light grey arrow
Lets' hope Troy Grant doesn't Delforce's website or it will be yet another NSW