Chinese and Australian officials to meet in Beijing for trade talks

Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell

1st April 2023 – (Beijing) Chinese and Australian officials will gather in Beijing next week for highly technical discussions aimed at easing their long-standing trade dispute. The meeting, which is expected to include officials from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and China’s Ministry of Commerce, follows earlier talks between Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell and Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao.

According to a report by Guardian Australia, the talks will cover a wide range of topics related to trade, including restrictions on Australian exports, the Aukus agreement and the impact of trade impediments on regional Australian communities.

The trade dispute between the two countries has been a major source of tension for several years, with sanctions placed on Australian exports in 2020 in response to calls by then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison for an international Covid-19 investigation. However, since the election of Australia’s center-left Labor government in 2022, there have been signs of a thawing in relations.

Sanctions have already been eased on commodities like coal, and the talks next week are expected to focus on further relaxation of restrictions on Australian exports, including lobsters and wine. Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres, who is attending the talks, told the Guardian that trade impediments were damaging regional Australian communities, which haven’t been able to find alternative markets for their produce.

One potential stumbling block in the talks is the recent Aukus agreement, under which Australia plans to buy a fleet of nuclear submarines from the US and the UK. However, Farrell has said he doesn’t expect the deal to derail progress in rebuilding relations with China.

The Aukus agreement has been controversial in the region, with China and France both expressing their displeasure. China has accused Australia of damaging regional security, while France, which was set to supply Australia with submarines under an earlier deal, has accused the US and UK of stabbing it in the back.

Despite the challenges, there are reasons for optimism about the prospects for the talks. Both sides have expressed a willingness to engage in constructive dialogue, and there have been some positive signs in recent months.

The fact that high-level officials from both countries are meeting face-to-face is a positive development in itself, and there is hope that the talks will lead to a further easing of tensions between the two countries.

In the longer term, there is also the possibility of deeper economic cooperation between Australia and China. Despite the current tensions, the two countries have a long history of trade and investment, and there are many areas where they could work together to mutual benefit.