Dan’s deal gets belted

Dan’s deal gets belted

Tom Minnear – Herald Sun – Thursday 21 May 2020

CHINA’S new trade sanctions are in breach of its controversial deal with the Andrews Government, according to federal Labor and Liberal MPs who are now turning up the heat on Victoria.

The Belt and Road agreement, connecting Victoria to China’s trillion-dollar infrastructure initiative, includes a commitment from both sides to enhance co-operation on “unimpeded trade”.

Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching said China’s decision to slap tariffs on Australian barley exports – which hurts Victorian farmers – showed the deal had “failed at the first hurdle”.

“The memorandum of understanding notes as an objective ‘unimpeded trade’, which of course this week’s trade sanctions make a lie of,” she said.

“It’s certainly not in the spirit of co-operation that was promised to the Victorian people.”

Senator Kitching, who chairs the powerful Senate foreign affairs and trade references committee, said the Andrews Government should never have entered into the Belt and Road agreement with China.

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas sparked a political storm on Tuesday by suggesting the tariffs were a consequence of the way the Morrison Government had handled Australia’s relationship with China.

“I’m not a big fan of the way the Federal Government has managed the relationship with China,” he said. Mr Pallas added he was “not a great fan of any country placing tariff barriers on importation of our products”.

But Liberal Senator James Paterson said last night: “If Tim Pallas actually wants to help farmers hit by these punitive and unjustified tariffs, perhaps he can ask the Chinese Communist Party to live up to their own promises of free and unfettered trade in their memorandum of understanding with Victoria?”

Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter said Mr Pallas’s suggestion that “we should not have made a determination in our national best interest” – to push for a global probe into the pandemic was “monstrously unhelpful”.

Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien also weighed in, asking when the Belt and Road deal would “actually translate into protecting jobs, and particularly the jobs of Victorian farmers and their workers in the barley industry”.

Victorian Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan was grilled about the Belt and Road deal at a state parliamentary inquiry yesterday, and maintained the agreement was “about jobs for the Victorian community”.

She said the government would “focus on the appropriate conduct for the tender processes” where Chinese companies were bidding to become involved in Victorian road and rail projects.

It came as the Morrison Government sought to hose down a Bloomberg report that Chinese officials were considering expanding the crackdown on Australian exports to wine, dairy and seafood.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said: “This is an unsourced claim for Chinese authorities to respond to.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said Australia would “always comply” with appropriate rules for exports.

As the World Health Assembly passed a motion for the independent coronavirus inquiry, which Australia helped spearhead, Senator Payne said the government “would be disappointed if there was any process of conflating these issues”.

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