SYDNEY —Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is eager to diffuse long-running trade and diplomatic tensions with China when he visits the country Nov. 4 through 7. A dispute over Australian wine exports at the World Trade Organization has been suspended.
China is, by far, Australia’s biggest trading partner. Albanese’s trip to Beijing and Shanghai will be the first by an Australian prime minister to China since 2016. There’ve been tensions between Australia and China over various geopolitical issues, including human rights and democracy in Hong Kong as well as Beijing’s ambitions in the South China Sea and the Pacific.
But Canberra’s call in 2020 for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 was a turning point. It infuriated China, which considered it a criticism of its handling of the early days of the pandemic. Tariffs and other duties were later imposed on Australian commodities, including wine, forcing growers to look for new markets.
Ahead of Albanese’s visit, Beijing agreed to review its restrictions on Australian wine, while in return, Canberra is suspending its action over the tariffs in the World Trade Organization. Australia’s Finance Minister Katy Gallagher told local media that China’s review is a positive sign.
“There’s going to be an expedited review of the duties by China and the understanding is that’s expected to take about five months,” Gallagher said. “So, look this is an important step forward. We know the wine industry was really hit hard by those tariffs when they were implemented in 2020.”
China was once Australia’s biggest wine market, but the lucrative exports disappeared overnight when massive tariffs were imposed. Richard Dolan is co-owner and joint managing director at Bec Hardy Wines in South Australia’s McLaren Vale.
He tells VOA that while he waits for the Chinese market to reopen, his company has expanded its trade with the United States.
“We have diversified into the U.S. in a larger way than what we probably would have anticipated,” Dolan said. “That got up and running a bit more quickly because we were able to invest more dollars into that market as a result of not having to service the China market. We’re ready to go. We are ready to take Bec Hardy wines back to mainland China in a big way.”
Australia’s Labor government – elected in May 2022 – has taken a less confrontational approach to China than the previous conservative administration. The tactic seems to be working. Tariffs on other Australian commodities, including barley, have been lifted and there have been other breakthroughs.
In October, China released Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who had been in detention for more than three years. Lei had worked for the English-language channel of China Central television and was accused of spying, allegations she denied.
Supporters of imprisoned Australian academic Yang Hengjun are vowing to renew their push for his freedom in China after Lei’s return home to Melbourne.
During his official visit, Australian Prime Minister Albanese will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang in Beijing and then attend the China International Import Expo in Shanghai.
Source: VOA News