Labor promises persistence on China trade reopening

Dominic Giannini |

Trade Minister Don Farrell (left) and China’s Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao at a teleconference.
Trade Minister Don Farrell (left) and China’s Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao at a teleconference.

Australia hopes to put a years-long trade dispute with China in the rear-view mirror as the trade minister arrives in Beijing. 

Don Farrell was greeted by Australia’s ambassador as he landed in Beijing on Thursday ahead of a scheduled meeting with counterpart Wang Wentao on Friday.

Senator Farrell said he wanted to return from the trip with a pathway forward to ending the remaining trade impediments.

He said nothing would do more to add to peace in the Indo-Pacific than maintaining a stable trading relationship with China.

“There’s no reason why we can’t progress our national security and our national interest but also continue our trading relationship and stabilise our relationship with China,” he said upon arrival.

“What I’d like to do over the next couple of days is continue that process of stabilising our relationship and work through a successful pathway for the resolution of all of our outstanding trade differences.”

Ahead of his departure, Senator Farrell told AAP the best way to resolve the dispute was for him to visit his counterpart in person.

“We need to show we’re fair dinkum about resolving these issues. How do we best do that? Well, me turning up there and accepting his invitation,” he said.

Senator Farrell will co-chair the joint ministerial economic commission with Mr Wang. 

The commission was last convened in 2017.

Senator Farrell said progress had been made, with almost daily coal shipments received in China, as well as orders for copper and cotton resuming.

But he said while there are signs of movement with Australian crayfish, orders are yet to flow. 

“I’d like to have discussions that show a way through all of these outstanding issues so we can look forward to a resumption of trade,” he said.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said the trade minister needed to ensure tangible movement, adding that Beijing should back away from using economic coercion.

“It’ll be a great disappointment if this visit doesn’t yield anything because there have been so many talks, so many meetings and so much build-up that this visit should be one where we see progress,” he said.

“I’d love to see China’s economic coercion against Australia end. Australian industry and business have shown enormous resilience against China’s attempts to see Australia change policy.”

Senator Farrell is expected to invite his counterpart to visit Australia as diplomatic relationships continue to thaw. 

Australia has paused its World Trade Organisation dispute against China for imposing tariffs on barley imports, in return for Beijing agreeing to expedite its review of the measure.

“My ambition is to show goodwill and hope that is then reciprocated,” Senator Farrell said.

Australia can resume the dispute should China fail to budge. 

The minister will also raise the case of detained Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who has spent 1000 days behind bars on espionage charges the Australian government has rejected.

Her sentencing has been delayed for a further three months, and details of the charges against her remain a secret.

Australian writer Yang Hengjun also remains detained in China on secret charges. 

“We believe these cases should be resolved and these people returned to their families,” Senator Farrell said.