Aussie trade chief eyes China export development

Farrell: We are making progress, but the job is not finished. — AFP

SYDNEY: Australia’s barley sector may be the next beneficiary of the thawing relationship with Beijing, Trade Minister Don Farrell said following another meeting with his Chinese counterpart.

Farrell, speaking in Detroit after his third meeting with Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao in the past two months, said he expects China would remove its 80% tariffs on Australian barley exports within the next few weeks.

Australia recently suspended its World Trade Organisation case to give Beijing an opportunity to review the matter.

“I intend to persist and persevere with all of those trade impediments, with a view to resolving them as quickly as we possibly can,” Farrell said in an interview.

“We’re making progress, but the job is not finished,” he said, adding he expected China to remove the barley tariffs after Beijing’s review “if it’s done properly.”

The comments are the latest sign ties between Australia and its top trading partner are on the mend in the wake of the election of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labour government a year ago, with timber exports to China recently following the resumption of coal shipments earlier in 2023.

Wine, crayfish, hay and to some extent meat, where not all butchers have received approval from Beijing, remain outstanding issues, Farrell said.

The lifting of timber-export restrictions came after Farrell visited Beijing and held talks with Wang earlier this month.

The ministerial-level discussions are a breakthrough after the Chinese government took punitive actions on a range of goods in 2020, furious at a call by then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19 in Wuhan.

Even as Canberra aims to negotiate an end to sanctions on billions of dollars worth of its agricultural exports, Beijing is pushing for better access for investment and Australia’s support for China joining the 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. That’s a sensitive issue given that Canberra is closely tied to the US on security and relations between Beijing and Washington are extremely strained.

Farrell participated in a meeting of the trade bloc in Detroit and said that his counterparts are focused on finalising the incorporation of the United Kingdom, the first country to join since 2018.

After that, members will talk about the additional nations that have asked to join, Farrell said, pointing out that he had told Wang such decisions must be made by consensus.

“It’s just not a case of, you know, what Australia might or might not want to do,” Farrell said.

“It’s a case of what the rest of the countries wish to do.”

Even as it seeks to mend trade ties with China, Australia is pushing to diversify away from the nation, which accounts for about 30% of its total trade – more than the United States, Japan, South Korea, India the United Kingdom and Germany combined, Farrell said.

That push includes new free-trade agreements with India and the United Kingdom. Farrell was in Michigan for talks on the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, and this upcoming week will be in Brussels in a bid to finalise a deal with the European Union.

“We can walk and chew gum, so we can continue to build on our trading relationship with China, stabilise that relationship, but also diversify our economy so that we have a range of a range of choices,” Farrell said. — Bloomberg

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