China and Australia’s top trade officials have met for the first time since 2019, in the latest sign of warming in diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Trade minister Don Farrell and China’s commerce minister, Wang Wentao held virtual talks on Monday for more than one-and-a-half hours, according to an Australian government statement that confirms a report by Bloomberg News. Both sides agreed to “enhance dialogue” with the aim of ensuring “the timely and full resumption of trade,” it added.
During the talks, Farrell accepted an invitation from his Chinese counterpart to visit Beijing “in the near future” for further discussions. Farrell said, “Our meeting represents another important step in the stabilisation of Australia’s relations with China.”
Ahead of the talks, Farrell said he would be using the meeting with China’s Wang to raise the ongoing sanctions against Australian exports, including wine, barley and lobsters.
Beijing imposed trade sanctions on a range of Australian exports in 2020, following a call by then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19. The Australian side had downplayed the likelihood of an imminent removal of restrictions following Monday’s bilateral meeting.
Still, relations have steadily improved between Canberra and Beijing since the May election of Australia’s centre-left Labor government. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the November Group of 20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia.
Talks have already taken place between the countries’ top defence and foreign affairs officials.
There have also been signs of trade relations thawing this year, with reports of Chinese companies restarting imports of Australian coal. A shipment of metallurgical from Australia coal is currently en route to China, due to arrive in the country on February 8.
There’s never been any official confirmation of a ban on imports of lobster or coal and China has continued to insist that its trade restrictions are in line with World Trade Organisation rules.
Speaking in Canberra in January, China’s ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian said there was “no such thing” as official trade sanctions on Australia. He added if Chinese companies wanted to purchase Australian coal, that was a decision for them.