China trade block drop on cards as premier visits

Dominic Giannini |

China’s Premier Li Qiang is visiting Australia in June with remaining trade barriers tipped to go.
China’s Premier Li Qiang is visiting Australia in June with remaining trade barriers tipped to go.

China could drop the remaining sanctions on Australian products as early as June, but there are warnings the swearing-in of Taiwan’s new president will spark a new rift between Canberra and Beijing. 

Premier Li Qiang is set to visit Australia next month and is likely to be accompanied by Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao, who was invited by Trade Minister Don Farrell.

Trade impediments remain on some Australian abattoirs and lobster imports but these could be dropped before the high-profile visit.

“That’s been my working assumption”, China expert Ben Herscovitch told AAP.

An announcement just ahead of, or around, the timing of the trip would be more likely if the commerce minister is accompanying the premier, he said. 

China earlier dropped restrictions on Australian wine that had hit the industry hard.

But the inauguration of Taiwan president-elect Lai Ching-te on Monday could throw a spanner in the works as a bipartisan delegation is set to travel to Taipei for the event.

The visit has drawn condemnation from Beijing with China’s embassy in Australia calling on Canberra to “fully honour its commitment without any compromise or inconsistency” to the one-China principle.

The president’s election will likely cause problems for the relationship with Australia as China continues to pressure Canberra to limit its engagement with Taipei, the Australia-China Relations Institute said.

“That Beijing views him as a potential independence advocate could mean that (China) will expect Australia and other countries to follow its lead of opposing and pressuring Lai,” it said in an analysis piece released on Thursday. 

“There could be less room for manoeuvre for Australia in its dealings with Taiwan.”

Labor senator Raff Ciccone, who is part of the delegation, defended the trip as being “entirely consistent with Australia’s one-China policy” and said there was a tradition of parliamentarians from both sides visiting Taiwan.

Taipei’s representative in Australia Douglas Hsu also defended the trip, saying it was usual practice for delegations to visit Taiwan as the two look to strengthen their trading relationship.

Taipei is looking to strengthen co-operation on critical minerals and energy with Australia, Mr Hsu said.

“There are a lot of connections between Taiwan and Australia, so to have a parliamentary delegation visit Taiwan is definitely welcome and encouraged,” he told AAP.

More than 400 politicians and officials from around the world are expected to travel to Taiwan for the inauguration.