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Ben Westcott

Australian Minister Raises Hopes for Trade Thaw With China

Shipping containers at a storage lot at the Port of Brisbane in Brisbane, Australia, on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. Australia’s trade surplus swelled in September on a jump in exports, driven by higher prices for iron ore, metals and energy. Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg (Bloomberg)

Australia would be willing to reconsider its case against China at the World Trade Organization if Beijing’s sanctions against its exports were lifted, as Trade Minister Don Farrell flagged a potential thaw in the trade tensions between the two countries.

China and Australia have been discussing the possibility of a visit to Beijing by Trade Minister Farrell to meet with his Chinese counterpart in the first half of 2023, but no official invitation has been issued yet.

Speaking to The Australian newspaper in an interview published Thursday, Farrell said that the government had made it clear to China that Canberra would “prefer to sort out our differences on trade issues by discussion rather than arbitrations.”

The World Trade Organization is expected to arbitrate a dispute between Australia and China in early 2023 over trade sanctions placed on Australian exports by Beijing, which include barley, wine and seafood. 

Fast-Thawing China-Australia Ties Raise Hopes for Trade Easing

The measures were put in place after calls by then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison in April 2020 for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19. 

Farrell said that Australia believed it had a strong case. “Obviously, if China was to drop the bans on barley and wine, well then, the circumstances change,” he said.

Since the election of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s Labor government in May, relations between Australia and China have stabilized with top officials from both sides meeting for the first time in years. Albanese met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November at the Group of 20 summit in Bali, while Foreign Minister Penny Wong traveled to Beijing in December for the first official visit since 2019.

Farrell has yet to meet with China’s top trade official Wang Wentao.

In interviews on Thursday, Albanese said he wouldn’t speculate on when Farrell would travel to Beijing or when the sanctions would be lifted. “I expect there will be a meeting between our trade ministers, we’ll wait and see what comes out of that,” he said.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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