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Progress on trade talks with China

There are renewed hopes of thawed trade relations between Australia and China following Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell meeting with China’s Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao for the first time, via teleconference.

It was the first meeting of Australian and Chinese Trade Ministers since 2019.

China imposed of heavy tariffs on Australian wine in late 2020, with about 800 Australia wine exporters affected.

“Our meeting represents another important step in the stabilisation of Australia’s relations with China,” Farrell said.

“This follows Prime Minister Albanese’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and the agreement by Foreign Ministers in December 2022 to restart dialogue in a range of areas, including trade and economic issues.

“I accepted an invitation from Minister Wang to travel to Beijing in the near future to continue our productive dialogue.

“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.

“Minister Wang and I agreed to enhance dialogue at all levels, including between officials, as a pathway towards the timely and full resumption of trade.

“We agreed to explore further opportunities for cooperation on a wider range of issues, including climate change and support for business delegations to further strengthen links between our countries.”

A sticking point is that Australia has challenged Chinese tariffs on both wine and barley at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and has signalled it is unwilling to suspend or withdraw its applications.

Minister Wang said that some issues would be “difficult” to resolve.

“I wish to face up to these issues, but at the same time I believe that this meeting cannot resolve all of these issues,” he said.

“I also believe our Australian colleagues understand that China will not make a trade off on principled issues.”

Benjamin Herscovitch from the Australian National University said the meeting was “another critical step” towards dismantling trade restrictions.

“The positive atmospherics surrounding this meeting and the broader bilateral relationship suggest a further easing of trade restrictions is on the cards in the coming months,” he told the ABC.

But he warned that the tariffs on barley and wine will likely “take longer to unwind.”

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