Australian companies seek more deals amid thawing ties
Industry delegation to visit China, eyes closer cooperation on green economy
Published: Apr 18, 2023 10:08 PM
China Australia Photo: CFP

China Australia Photo: CFP

A delegation of about 15 senior representatives of Australian companies and local government officials will make a six-day visit to China, the first of its kind in three years, starting on April 23, amid wide expectations among Australian businesses for stronger ties with China, the Global Times learned from people familiar with the matter and media reports.

The delegation is to visit several major financial and manufacturing cities including Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, South China's Shenzhen and North China's Tianjin. Agreements will be signed not just on the governmental level but among businesses as well, the Global Times learned.

In grabbing new business opportunities, which they missed amid deteriorating bilateral relations during the previous Morrison government, the Australian companies' frequent visits to China reflect their greater expectations for a closer and sustainable partnership with their major market after the consumption rebounded, experts said.

Organized by the Australian China Business Council, the trip is part of the ongoing "Green Channel" initiative to "educate Australian business and government on economic opportunities for Australia from greater collaboration with China on climate change," a person familiar with the matter told the Global Times.

The trip is to learn about new opportunities for Australia and China to work together to accelerate solutions to transition to a green economy, he said.

Australian companies are hoping to learn from what China has achieved in the past decade and position ourselves for the huge changes required in the next decade, the person said.

The visit, aimed at understanding China's new "high-quality growth agenda and developing new partnerships, highlights opportunities in a wide range of cooperative areas, including mining, energy, value-added manufacturing, transport, the built environment, finance and agribusiness," the Global Times learned.

Moreover, science and technology, scientific parks and economic development zones will also be part of the discussion for future cooperation during the visit.

Among the possible documents to be signed during the trip, there is a memorandum of understanding between Australian business groups and the Green Partnership of Industrial Parks, an information exchange and cooperation platform under the guidance and support of China's Ministry of Commerce, according to the person.

The trip is the first official delegation to visit China with the backing of the federal government, the Australian Financial Review reported.

HSBC Australia, Telstra, ANZ Banking Group, Rio Tinto, Cochlear, Fortescue and King and Wood Mallesons are among the companies sending representatives on the visit, the report said.

A spokesperson of Fortescue, one of the world's largest iron ore producers, confirmed to the Global Times in a statement on Tuesday that it will participate in the delegation.

"This is a unique opportunity for senior business leaders in Australia and China to maintain a strong narrative around this important bilateral relationship by identifying opportunities for further cooperation," the spokesperson said.

Australia's trade relationship with China remains critical in providing economic stability and supporting jobs, according to the company's statement.

China has been the major consumer of Australia's bulk commodities, with iron ore playing the main role and staying resilient, even during the tough epidemic situation in 2022. About 60 percent of the iron ore imported by China comes from Australia.

As a low-cost supplier of seaborne iron ore to China, Fortescue maintains strong relationships with all of its Chinese stakeholders, the company said.

Speaking of the green economy, which the trip will focus on, the spokesperson said that "China will be integral to driving the world's rapid transition to green energy and Fortescue is committed to actively engaging with customers in China and elsewhere, governments, our suppliers and other key industry participants to facilitate the energy transition."

The delegation's visit comes after frequent visits by the government officials of the two countries.

China's Vice Minister of Agricultural and Rural Affairs Ma Youxiang met with Australian Agricultural Minister Murray Watt and other government officials during his trip on Monday, which is another example of China's efforts in pushing bilateral agricultural cooperation back on track.
The meeting led to several areas of consensus for closer agricultural ties.

Also before the delegation's visit, Australian industry participants from a wide range of industries, including agriculture and mining, have come in what could be the most intensive series of visits to China in three years.

The delegation's focus shows that China-Australia trade ties go far beyond just agricultural goods such as barley and wine or the mining sector, but extend to the green economy and clean energy as well as finance and services, education and technology, Chen Hong, president of the Chinese Association of Australian Studies, told the Global Times.

While the world economy awaits a rebound after its present downturn, companies are hoping to explore new development areas for sustainable growth, said Chen, who is also a professor and director of the Australian Studies Centre, East China Normal University.

The historic meeting between the leaders of the two countries in Bali during the G20 summit last November has played the significant role in leading the improvement of the bilateral relations in a top down manner. The business visits serve as a bottom up push, which would inject a strong momentum for the full recovery of the bilateral trade, Chen said.

"While there will still be noises and pressure from the US in pushing the Australian government to pick side under the 'China threat' hype, great expectations for an improved relations among Australian business sectors play a very important role in helping the government properly handle differences and make decisions based on long-term, win-win outcomes when it comes to a healthy and sustainable bilateral relations," Chen said.