China’s $20bn threat to Australia

Trade Minister Don Farrell will meet with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Naomi Jellicoe

Trade Minister Don Farrell says Australia’s export dispute with China won’t be fixed overnight but he is hopeful for a resolution after touching down in Beijing on Thursday.

Senator Farrell has arrived in China for talks with counterpart Wang Wentao, sparking further hopes the remaining Chinese sanctions on an estimated $20bn worth of Australian exports will be lifted.

After arriving in Beijing, the Labor frontbencher told travelling Australian journalists on the airport tarmac he hoped to return to Canberra with a pathway to resolving the outstanding issues.

Senator Farrell said Labor would always prioritise Australia’s national interests and national security while attempting to iron out the long-running trade stoush.

“Nothing’s going to do more to achieve peace in our region than strong trading relationships between Australia and China,” he said.

During his two-day trip, Senator Farrell will meet with Chinese and Australian business representatives in addition to a formal meeting with Mr Wang.

“During my visit I will be advocating strongly for the full ­resumption of unimpeded Australian exports to China – for all ­sectors – to the benefit of both countries and in the interests of Australian exporters and producers,” Senator Farrell said in a statement earlier on Thursday.

“I will also raise other issues of importance to Australians.”

Trade Minister Don Farrell is en route to China. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Senator Farrell will also co-chair the 16th Joint Ministerial Economic Commission with Mr Wang during his visit.

He described the commission, which last convened in Beijing in 2017, as another important step in the stabilisation of Australia’s relationship with China that has begun to thaw after years of a diplomatic freeze.

Senator Farrell’s visit to Australia’s largest trading partner comes after he held virtual talks with Mr Wang in February in what was the first meeting between an Australian trade minister and a Chinese commerce minister in three years.

Senator Farrell said on Thursday he and Mr Wang had agreed at that meeting to “enhanced dialogue at all levels” as a pathway towards the full resumption of trade.

There have been several positive trade developments since then, including the resumption of coal, cotton, and copper trade as well as China’s agreement to undertake an expedited review of duties on Australian barley, Senator Farrell said.

Senator Farrell and Foreign Minister Penny Wong last month announced Australia had reached a partial breakthrough in its long-running trade dispute with China by striking the agreement on barley.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

China will review the substantial tariffs it imposed on Australian barley when relations between the two countries plummeted in 2020.

In return, Australia will temporarily suspend its formal appeal to the World Trade Organisation over the matter, with hopes a similar dispute over wine exports will subsequently be resolved.

The agreement to resolve the dispute over barley exports came after months of negotiations between Australian and Chinese ministers as well as Anthony Albanese and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The federal government hopes if the tariffs on barley can be lifted it will then be able to successfully advocate for the removal of similar trade impediments on Australian wine.

Senator Farrell’s trip to China comes after Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres’ own visit to Beijing in March as well as the Prime Minister’s meeting with President Xi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in November.

Senator Wong has also held meetings with her counterparts, most recently in March after she visited Beijing in December.

Mr Albanese recently denied a report in Hong Kong media that said he had been invited “in principle” to make his own trip to Beijing and could visit by the end of the year.

Two-way trade in goods between Australia and China was worth $287bn in 2022.