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Minister flies to China in latest bid to ease trade row

Trade Minister Don Farrell is travelling to Beijing in a bid to end a long-running dispute blocking Australian businesses accessing lucrative Chinese markets.

ANTHONY ALBANESE Australia has started to repair its relationship with the Chinese government.
May 11, 2023
By Dominic Giannini
11 May 2023

Australia hopes to put a years-long trade dispute with China in the rear view mirror as the trade minister prepares to head to Beijing. 

Don Farrell is travelling to China on Thursday and will meet his counterpart Wang Wentao after accepting his invitation during a virtual conference in February.

Senator Farrell said the trip was the next step in stabilising Canberra’s relationship with Beijing. 

“We need to show we’re fair dinkum about resolving these issues. How do we best do that? Well, me turning up there and accepting his invitation,” he told AAP.

“The problems didn’t occur overnight, they’re not going to be resolved overnight. But from my point of view, persistence and perseverance are the real keys.”

Senator Farrell will co-chair the joint ministerial economic commission with Mr Wang, which was last convened in 2017.

He said progress had been made with almost daily coal shipments received in China, as well as orders for copper and cotton resuming.

But while there are signs of movement with Australian crayfish, orders are yet to flow. 

“So there’s a range of issues and they’re not all in the same category,” Senator Farrell said.

“Some relate to tariffs, 220 per cent punitive tariffs on wine. Meat and crayfish tend to be regulatory things, biosecurity issues.

“I’d like to have discussions that show a way through all of these outstanding issues so we can look forward to a resumption of trade.”

He is expected to invite his counterpart to visit Australia as diplomatic relationships continue to thaw. 

Australia has paused its World Trade Organisation dispute against China for imposing tariffs on barley imports in return for Beijing agreeing to expedite its review of the measure.

Senator Farrell said while he believed the ruling would have been in favour of Australia, the concessions could lead to a quicker resolution than if the dispute had continued.

“That wouldn’t have been the end of it. There still would have been another 18 months to two years of process,” he said of the dispute.

“My ambition is to show goodwill and hope that is then reciprocated.”

Australia can still resume the dispute should China fail to budge. 

Senator Farrell will also raise the case of detained Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who has spent 1000 days behind bars on espionage charges the Australian government has rejected.

Her sentencing has been delayed for a further three months and the details of the charges against her remain a secret.

Australian writer Yang Hengjun also remains detained in China on secret charges. 

“We believe these cases should be resolved and these people returned to their families,” the trade minister said. 

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