Australia anticipates China will lift final obstacle for exports as they ease past 2020 row

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell on Wednesday predicted the final obstacle for exports to China, Beijing’s ban on live lobster imports, will be lifted soon after Chinese Premier Li Qiang visits the country.

The return of lobsters to the Chinese market would be a milestone in the Australian government’s ambition to stabilize bilateral relations since coming to power in 2022.

China banned minister-to-minister communications with Australia and imposed a series of official and unofficial trade barriers in 2020 on Australian products including beef, barley, coal, wood and wine costing exporters 20 billion Australian dollars ($13 billion) a year.

Bilateral relations plumbed new lows after a previous Australian government demanded an independent investigation into the causes of and China’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Farrell said Li becoming the first Chinese premier to visit Australia in seven years on Saturday would remove the final trade barrier on lobsters.

“I think there’s both the willingness on our part and the part of the Chinese government to remove all of the impediments in our relationship,” Farrell told reporters.

Lobster is the one remaining banned product, said Farrell, China lifted tariffs on Australian wine in March and restrictions on Australian beef in December 2023.

“I’d be very confident that the visit this week will result in a very successful outcome for lobster producers,” Farrell added.

Li will be accompanied by Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao when he visits the Australian cities of Adelaide, Canberra and Perth from Saturday until Tuesday next week.

Farrell said every meeting he had held with Wang since the center-left Labor Party replaced the conservative government in 2022 had progressed the trade relationship.

“I’m very confident that not only will we remove all of the remaining trade impediments, but that we can actually continue to build on our trading relationship with China,” Farrell said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who in November became the first Australian government leader to visit Beijing in seven years, said Li’s visit was symbolic of the normalization of relations since the current government was elected.

“That has been important for Australia to renew that trade, because one in four of Australian jobs relies upon trade, and one in four of Australian export dollars is from trade to China,” Albanese said.

Farrell was speaking at Wirra Wirra Vineyard in South Australia state which celebrated its 130th anniversary as a winery on Wednesday.

Since China removed the tariffs in April, AU$86 million ($57 million) of wine had been exported to what was once the largest export market for Australian vineries, Farrell said.

That was more Australian wine than was sold to China in the preceding three years.

Australia provided almost 40% of China’s imported wine and was a market worth AU$1.24 billion ($820 million) a year to Australian exporters before tariffs all but ended the trade in 2020.

While trade relationship is improving, the security relationship is becoming more tense as Australia supports U.S. efforts to counter China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Albanese said he will raise with Li clashes between Australian and Chinese forces over international waters in the South China and Yellow seas.

Albanese also reiterate Australia’s call for Australian blogger Yang Hengjun to be released from a Beijing prison.

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