Interview with Tom Connell, Sky News Afternoon Agenda


SUBJECTS: EU FTA; Trade; Agriculture Ministers' Meeting; Poultry Standards

TOM CONNELL, HOST: The trade talks between Australia and the EU, no deal at the moment, perhaps nothing right up until the end of the year. Joining me live is Agriculture Minister Murray Watt for more on this, thanks for your time. Can you just bring us in on the compromise Australia was willing to actually make here? Because there's a lot of talk of the geographical locators. Should we be able to use terms such as Feta, Prosecco? Has Australia offered the addendum, if you like, that we'd say we can use ‘Australian style Feta’ as a compromise to the EU?

MURRAY WATT, MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY: Good to be with you, Tom. And it obviously is disappointing that at this stage, the EU has not been prepared to make a good enough offer to Australia under this trade agreement. I've been speaking to Don Farrell in the middle of the night while he's been overseas, to stay updated and give him my views. And we remain hopeful that over the coming weeks and months, we can still strike a deal with the EU.

But it's got to be a deal that's in the interests of Australian farmers and our national interest. When it comes to the geographic indicators, we think that there are ways of coming to an agreement that still provide the EU with a level of protection more than what they've got at the moment, but don't completely sell out our farmers here in Australia and continue to provide them with some protection as well. If you look at the sort of deals that other countries have done with the EU, they have been able to come to arrangements around grandfathering, the use of terms or describing them as their country's style Prosecco or Feta or Parmesan or other things. There's a range of different options and we obviously haven't agreed on anything, but we remain hopeful that we can come to an agreement on that, at the same time as making sure that we get good market access for our beef, sheep, sugar, dairy and other producers.

TOM CONNELL: We spoke to Kevin Hogan early this week. He said from his discussions with farmers and so on that grandfathering should not be an option because then no new players can enter that production, if you like, using that name. Do you share that feeling? Is adding something onto it - Feta or Prosecco, whatever it be a better option than closing it out to new players?

MURRAY WATT: Well, I want to be clear, we haven't agreed to any of those sorts of moves with the EU and they remain matters under discussion. And I think if they expect Australia to move in any direction on those sorts of points, then they've got to be prepared to offer us the sort of market access that they've been prepared to offer to other countries. So there are different views within different farming and processing organisations about what's acceptable. We will continue to listen to those views as these negotiations continue, but the bottom line is, we don't make any apologies for fighting for Aussie farmers, Aussie food producers, to get the best deal we possibly can.

TOM CONNELL: Sounds like you're not ruling out grandfathering, though.

MURRAY WATT: Well what I'm saying is that these negotiations remain underway and there are all sorts of different options that may or may not be possible. But we are not prepared to move on any of this until we get the market access for beef, for sheep meat, for sugar, for dairy products and other things that we think Australian farmers deserve.

TOM CONNELL: OK. A bit of kickback after your government is looking to end caged eggs in Australia ten years earlier - it's still a while away, to say the least - 2036. I'm wary of stats that are thrown out there, apparently we consume 17 million a day, they are in all sorts of things. Is there a real risk if it's brought earlier on a big bump in price? What have you made of this reaction?

MURRAY WATT: Yeah, I don't think that there is anywhere near the sort of likelihood of these kind of consequences that some industry groups and some politicians are carrying on about. Let's remember that some of the politicians who've jumped on this bandwagon are the same people who told us that we'd be paying $100 for a lamb roast, that we'd be ending the backyard barbecue if we signed up to the global methane pledge. These people have a history of exaggerating and scaring people about things that just aren't real.

You're right, what Ministers here in Perth at the Agriculture Minister meeting tomorrow, will be deciding is whether to implement new animal welfare standards for poultry, which wouldn't come in until 2036. I think, while this decision is yet to be made, I think that does provide adequate time for industry to adjust. The modelling that has been received by Ministers provides for nothing like the kind of price increases that are being claimed by some people-

TOM CONNELL: What sort of price increases would they have?

MURRAY WATT: Look, I haven't got the exact figures at hand, but we're talking about cents rather than dollars in terms of the increase-

TOM CONNELL: But you'd release that then? Whatever the real price impacts will be?

MURRAY WATT: I'm sure that that would be possible, but of course, that's got to be discussed with the Ministers. The other thing to bear in mind here is that we're not talking about moving away from caged eggs altogether and entirely to free range eggs, which, again, is what some people are claiming.  What we're talking about is treating poultry humanely. They can remain in cages, but in a much more humane way.

And some of the big retailers and buyers of eggs are already moving towards moving away from battery hens anyway. These are changes that are happening already that in some cases will come in sooner than what the governments are requiring. And I think that 2036 as the last finish date provides adequate time for industry to adjust with the support of government.

TOM CONNELL: All right, well, I was going to get your thoughts on Fadden, but you'll be able to offer them on Saturday night, of course, on our coverage. So let you off the hook until then. Murray Watt, thank you.

MURRAY WATT: Sure, no worries. Go Queensland!