Australian trade minister Don Farrell is heading to Beijing to meet his counterpart in the country’s latest effort to resolve the long-term trade dispute with China.
The minister departed for China on May 11 following an invitation from Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao during a virtual meeting between the two sides in February.
At the time, while Farrell and Wang discussed a wide range of trade and investment issues, there was no significant breakthrough.
The trade dispute started in 2020 when Beijing unofficially imposed restrictions on a wide range of Australian commodities after tension escalated between the two countries due to several political and public health matters.
As a result, many Australian exporting industries suffered significant financial damage, including coal, beef, lobster, cotton, and timber.
Since then, Australia has been trying to resume normal trade with its largest trading partner.
Speaking about his trip to China, Farrell said it was the next step in stabilising the relationship between the two countries.
“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 in comments obtained by AAP.
“The problems didn’t occur overnight. They’re not going to be resolved overnight. But from my point of view, persistence, and perseverance are the real keys.”
The minister also said he would co-chair the 16th joint ministerial economic commission with Wang.
Trade Improvements for Some Australian Commodities
Regarding recent trading activities, Farrell said some Australian commodities, such as coal, copper, and cotton, had seen improvements in shipments to China.
However, he noted that there was no progress in the lobster trade.
“So there’s a range of issues, and they’re not all in the same category,” Farrell said.
“Some relate to tariffs, 220 percent punitive tariffs on wine. Meat and crayfish tend to be regulatory things and biosecurity issues.
“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.”
It is expected that the trade minister will invite his Chinese counterpart to visit Australia to thaw the tension between the two countries further.
The trade discussions come after Australia suspended its World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute against China’s barley import tariffs, which Farrell said would have seen the body rule in favour of Australia.
However, the minister said he believed that concessions could deliver a better outcome for Australia than letting the dispute progress.
“That wouldn’t have been the end of it. There still would have been another 18 months to two years of process,” Farrell said of the dispute.
“My ambition is to show goodwill and hope that is then reciprocated.”
Farrell’s remarks came after the Australian government announced in April that it would temporarily pause the WTO dispute in exchange for Beijing’s promise to conduct an “expedited review” of the barley tariffs over the next three months.
While the move might be considered a gamble, Australia can still resume the dispute if China fails to keep its promise.
Detained Australians to Appear on Farrell’s Agenda
In addition to the trade issues, Farrell is also expected to raise the case of detained Australian journalist Cheng Lei with Wang Wentao.
Cheng Lei, who was a news anchor for China Global Television Network, a Chinese state-owned English-language news channel, has spent 1,000 days in detention after the Chinese regime arrested her in 2020.
She was charged with “illegally supplying state secrets overseas,” which the Australian government has rejected.
Cheng’s sentencing has been put off for another three months, while the Chinese regime has not revealed details of the charges.
During the detention period, Chinese Communist Party authorities have regularly denied Australian consulate staff contact with Cheng.
Her partner Nick Coyle said that the journalist has only had two face-to-face consular visits in the past 31 months.
Australian officials have been using diplomatic efforts to demand the Chinese regime free Cheng.
Meanwhile, Yang Hengjun, another Chinese-Australian, still remains detained in China on espionage charges after four years.
“We believe these cases should be resolved, and these people returned to their families,” Farrell said of the detained Australians.
Daniel Y. Teng contributed to this article.
From The Epoch Times