ABC News Radio Interview
Tuesday, 8 April 2014
SUBJECT: Australia and Japan Free Trade Agreement

MARIUS BENSON: Joel Fitzgibbon, cautious people say the devil is in the detail when you look at a free trade agreement, how diabolical do the details look to you?

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE: Well it certainly is wise to wait and to see the detail and we’re yet to do so, so we welcome the deal obviously but there are some concerns and if the responses of the National Farmers Federation and the Cattle Council are anything to go by then we should be concerned about the outcome for agriculture.

BENSON: But broadly is it not a great thing for agriculture to see these tariff barriers tumbling?

FITZGIBBON: Well the tariff barriers are tumbling very, very modestly and very, very slowly. Around 8 and 6 per cent for beef for example and the real gains will be realised over a period of 18 years that’s a very, very slow improvement. The National Farmers Federation has said that the deal falls short for its members. The Cattle Council has been on message in its expression of disappointment with the deal. We haven’t seen the detail but I am concerned that agriculture has been abandoned so that Tony Abbott can steal that trophy and make his announcement while he is travelling.

BENSON: Even if this falls short of maybe being a great deal in your assessment, is it a better deal than existed previously?

FITZGIBBON: Well it’s got to be a net positive for the national interest. There are many facets to any free trade arrangement, there are winners and losers and all these things are relative. My very strong interest of course is in agriculture and if the National Farmers Federation response is anything to go by then this isn’t the deal agriculture was looking for.

BENSON: When you say losers are any losers apparent to you now?

FITZGIBBON: Well again I haven’t seen the details so I’ll hold my fire in that respect. I am concerned about the arrangements for foreign investment. Our agriculture sector will need significant foreign investment in future years to capitalise on the opportunities presented in Asia and the Abbott Government is now developing a discriminatory foreign investment regime where the Americans for example have one threshold before they have to go to the FIRB and Asian nations have a different threshold and I believe that sends all the wrong messages to potential Asian investors.

BENSON: Broadly does it seem to you, are you suggesting that Australia is giving more than its getting?

FITZGIBBON: Well I just don’t know because we haven’t seen the detail of the agreement but I do know that the National Farmers Federation and the Cattle Council have expressed disappointment in the arrangement, the way these things work is that they have probably seen more detail then have I but the noises coming out of those organisations should be of concern to the agricultural sector.

BENSON: Inhaling this free trade agreement, one point being made by government spokespeople is that it’s been a long time coming and that you, Labor, were in office for six years and dragged the chain.

FITZGIBBON: Well it has been a long time coming, that’s also true of the China FTA and it was true of the South Korea FTA but these things are tough in their negotiation and they do take time. That’s excepted by all sides in politics but it’s better to wait another year or two and to get the deal right rather than potentially walk away from one particular sector just so one particular Prime Minister can grab the trophy.

BENSON: Did Labor drag the chain? Did you miss opportunities?

FITZGIBBON: No, I don’t believe that Labor did drag the chain. We made very, very significant progress and that has been acknowledged by the Abbott Government. These things are critical to the Australian economy, critical to our trade relationships and they must be done right and the big question today is whether this one has been done right or whether agriculture has been sort of pushed aside in order that Tony Abbott can grab this trophy.

BENSON: Joel Fitzgibbon thank you very much.

FITZGIBBON: Always a pleasure.


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