Wine being chilled to toast possible end to China beef

Dominic Giannini |

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is due to touch down in Australia on Tuesday night.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is due to touch down in Australia on Tuesday night.

Australia producers are hopeful an end to punitive Chinese tariffs are in sight with the first visit by China’s foreign minister in seven years, but one expert warns relief could still be some time off. 

Despite China easing trade sanctions against Australia, several tariffs and impediments remain, primarily targeting wine, lobster and beef.

Beijing has flagged removing wine tariffs by the end of March and there is optimism that a meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Foreign Minister Penny Wong in Canberra on Wednesday will mark a further easing.

China has flagged removing wine tariffs
China has flagged removing wine tariffs by the end of March. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

Both sides want a tangible outcome from the visit but there was a lot of uncertainty about whether anything would be announced straight away, China expert Ben Herscovitch said.

China has nothing to lose by bringing forward by a week a final decision on tariffs but an announcement directly following the foreign ministers meeting may only outline a pathway to removing the levies, he said. 

“My hunch is there will probably be an announcement on wine duty in the coming weeks,” Dr Herscovitch said.

“It’s a really significant, high-profile visit and both sides want something significant to come out of it.”

He believed an immediate movement on lobster or beef impediments was unlikely.

“I suspect out of these meetings we will have further indicators … lobster and beef will be removed in coming months but I’m not sure if there will be a formal announcement,” he said. 

“The Chinese government and state media are signalling they will go.”

An announcement would be more likely following a trip by China’s commerce minister, which is likely in the coming months, Mr Herscovitch said.

Lobster on menu in China talks
Lobster will be on the menu during talks between China and Australia. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

Australian Grape and Wine chief executive Lee McLean welcomed Beijing’s interim decision that recommended wine tariffs be scrapped.

“We remain cautiously optimistic about the forthcoming decision,” he said.

Rock lobster industry boss Kyriakos Toumazos said the Chinese visit was “great news”.

Cattle Australia also remained optimistic about the bilateral talks.

“We are hopeful this visit, the first from a Chinese foreign minister since 2017, will help progress removal of the temporary trade suspensions still imposed on a further eight processing facilities,” chief executive Chris Parker said.

Nationals Leader David Littleproud has called on the agriculture minister to put in place extra reforms and support to help the wine industry, with any bounce back from the opening of the Chinese market likely to take time.

There was an oversupply in Australia that was hurting producers, he said. 

“This industry has gone through a lot and it needs a bit of help,” Mr Littleproud said.

Beef producers hope for China breakthrough
Beef exporters are hopeful of a breakthrough as the Chinese foreign minister visits Australia. (James Ross/AAP PHOTOS)

Mr Wang is set to travel to Sydney on Thursday to meet with business leaders. He will also meet former Australian prime minister Paul Keating.

Wednesday’s meeting will be the sixth between Senator Wong and her counterpart, and the first visit from a Chinese foreign minister to Australia in seven years.

The case of Yang Hengjun is expected to be raised after the Australian writer received a suspended death sentence on heavily contested national security charges.

It will be the first time the foreign ministers come face to face since the sentencing.

Dr Herscovitch said it was unlikely there would be any movement on the case.

Beijing was more sensitive about Dr Yang than released Australian citizen Cheng Lei given the writer’s charges were on national security grounds, he said.