China-Australia trade ministers hold 1st meeting since 2019

Australian and Chinese trade ministers are holding their first bilateral meeting since 2019 as Australia urges China to lift barriers that are costing exporters $14 billion a year

Rod McGuirk
Monday 06 February 2023 07:19 GMT
Australia China
Australia China

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Australian and Chinese trade ministers held their first bilateral meeting in three years Monday as Australia urges China to lift official and unofficial barriers that are costing exporters 20 billion Australian dollars ($14 billion) a year.

China has thawed its diplomatic freeze on Australia since Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s center-left Labor Party was elected in May for the first time in nine years.

Albanese has urged China to demonstrate good will to his administration by lifting trade restrictions on Australian exports including wine, coal, beef, seafood, barley and wood.

Trade Minister Don Farrell said that behind closed doors, he and his Chinese counterpart Wang Wentao had agreed to enhance dialogue at all levels as a pathway “towards the timely and full resumption of trade.”

“Our discussion covered a range of trade and investment issues, including the need for resumption of unimpeded trade for Australian exporters so that Chinese consumers can continue to benefit from high quality Australian products,” Farrell said in a statement after the teleconference meeting from Australia’s Parliament House.

During the introductory stage of the meeting that was open to the media, Wang invited Farrell to meet in China.

“I’m looking forward to open and candid exchanges of views with you,” Wang told Farrell. “I’m also very much happy to extend an invitation to you to visit China at a time convenient to you. And I believe that your next trip to China will leave you with a different impression.”

Farrell accepted the invitation but did not nominate a date.

“The outcomes of our discussions have the potential to be of great benefit to both of our countries, and both of our consumers,” Farrell said.

Wang said the priority of the meeting should be to build mutual trust.

“I wish to stress we will face up to the issues, but at the same time this meeting cannot resolve all of these issues,” Wang said.

Although Wang noted that while common ground should be sought, some issues “cannot be resolved.”

“China will not make a trade-off on principled issues,” Wang said.

The trade barriers are widely regarded as punishment for the previous Australian government passing laws that ban covert foreign interference in domestic politics, for barring Chinese-owned telecommunications giant Huawei from rolling out Australia’s 5G network due to security concerns and for calling for an independent investigation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Albanese raised his concerns about trade “blockages” in November when he took part in the first formal bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping by an Australian government leader since 2016.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong in December became the first Australian foreign minister to visit China in four years.

The first shipments of Australian coal to China since Beijing imposed an unofficial ban on the commodity 2 1/2 years ago were due to arrive in the country this week in the first clear sign Xi’s regime will roll back some sanctions on Australian exports, The Australian Financial Review reported.

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