Australian, Chinese officials meet over trade sanctions

High-level Australian officials have met with their Chinese counterparts in Beijing to discuss ongoing trade sanctions in the latest sign of a diplomatic thaw.

Beijing has imposed billions of dollars worth of unofficial sanctions on Australian products, including wine, barley and meat.

Trade Minister Don Farrell says things are going well, but it will take time for the situation to improve.

“It will take some time to turn this ship around and we’re working very hard on it,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.

But there are complications around the trade impediments due to the unofficial nature of the sanctions.

“Each product is different. Some relate to tariffs, some relate to regulatory rules that apply,” Senator Farrell said.

The talks pave the way for Senator Farrell to travel to Beijing in coming weeks as Australia awaits a major breakthrough in the trade dispute.

The trade minister accepted an invitation to travel to China from his Chinese counterpart when they met virtually last month but no date has been set.

“We’re not far away. The discussions are going well,” he said.

“I don’t want to pre-empt how they might finish, but all the messages that are coming back to me from China are very, very positive.”

The trade officials’ meeting comes days after Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres returned from China, where he met with his counterpart commerce vice-minister Wang Shouwen.

Senator Ayres advocated at the meeting for a “timely and full resumption of trade” to China which he said was in the interests of both countries.

Australian coal shipments to China have started to pick up in recent months.

Senator Ayres said Australia was on the path to a more stable relationship but wanted to see more progress.

“If you’re a wine grower, if you’re in seafood, barley, forest products, there’s a series of products there has not been much movement on,” he told Sydney radio station 2GB on Tuesday.

“I always count success in these things in terms of the number of container loads that are delivered into Chinese ports, not the actual outcomes of discussions.”

Beijing and Canberra have also received the World Trade Organisation’s report on Australia’s complaint about Chinese barley tariffs.

Both parties have three weeks to settle the dispute before the report is issued to all WTO members.

China has continuously said Australia needed to express goodwill and drop the WTO complaint to bolster the relationship.

Australia has expressed a willingness to drop the case but wants tangible movement on trade impediments before doing so.


Dominic Giannini
(Australian Associated Press)


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