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Australia trade minister 'pleased' with trade talks in China

FILE PHOTO: Illustration shows printed Chinese and Australian flags

By Joe Cash

BEIJING (Reuters) -Australia's Minister for Trade and Tourism Don Farrell said on Friday he was "pleased" with his talks with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing on removing trade barriers, but added that his visit was "just another step" in stabilising ties.

Farrell's visit to the Chinese capital, the first by an Australian trade minister since 2019, followed an easing of diplomatic tensions with the election of a Labor government in mid-2022.

Australian wine, beef, barley, coal, seafood and timber exports to China were hit by trade curbs in 2020, and Australian journalist Cheng Lei was detained in Beijing on national security charges, after Australia called for an international inquiry into the origins of COVID-19, which angered Beijing.

The visit "is just another step in the road of stabilising the relationship," Farrell told a press conference after the talks. "I came here to create a pathway to normalise our trade and economic relationship with China."

China's Commerce Minister Wang Wentao told Farrell the economies of China and Australia were highly complementary and that the two countries should focus on the long-term development of their economic and trade relations, China's commerce ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

China is willing to work with Australia to expand their areas of cooperation and hopes Australia will treat Chinese companies and products fairly and justly, the ministry said.

As tensions eased, Beijing in January gave permission to four government-backed firms to ship in Australian coal and trade has now fully resumed.

Australia agreed in April to suspend a case at the World Trade Organization over China's anti-dumping duties on barley, while China said it would hasten a review into the tariffs.

But Canberra is still pushing to have other trade curbs removed and for diplomatic relations to stabilise.

In opening remarks at the 16th Joint Ministerial Economic Commission, Farrell told Wang: "We can see the benefits for Australian and Chinese businesses and consumers that continue to flow from the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement" of 2015.

"I'm very pleased to confirm that we agreed to step up dialogue under our free trade agreement and other platforms to resolve our outstanding issues," Farrell said after his meeting with Wang.

"We also discussed the World Trade Organization disputes. I was very pleased to get reassurances that our agreement reached recently on barley remains on track."

Farrell said Wang had accepted an invitation to visit Australia.

"There were very positive discussions, as I said, a whole lot of movement has started already. We've seen coal come back to China, we've seen copper concentrates come back to China, we've seen cotton come back into China."

Farrell said he raised the consular cases of Cheng Lei and detained Australian blogger Yang Hengjun with Wang.

The Australian minister said China also expressed a desire to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a free trade agreement among some countries on the Pacific Rim.

"The Chinese minister indicated that they would like to be considered for accession to the CPTPP," Farrell said.

Entry into CPTPP requires the approval of all member countries, including Australia.

(Reporting by Joe Cash and Dominique Patton; Additional reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by John Stonestreet, Alex Richardson and William Mallard)