China, Australia resume high-level economic dialogue as bilateral ties improve under Albanese government
Improvement in bilateral relations benefit both countries: experts
Published: May 14, 2023 07:26 PM
China Australia Photo: CFP

China Australia Photo: CFP

China and Australia are expected to see marked improvement in their trade ties with the two countries ramping up efforts to shore up economic cooperation following the recent resumption of high-level visits and dialogues, experts said.

Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell visited Beijing from Thursday to Saturday and he co-chaired the 16th China-Australia Joint Ministerial Economic Commission with China's Commerce Minister Wang Wentao.  Farrell had a tour of Beijing's Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City.

Wang called on Australia to make joint efforts with China to expand common interests, and urged the two sides to address each other's concerns on the basis of equality and mutual benefit, the Commerce Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

The two economies are largely complementary and have had fruitful economic and trade cooperation, Wang said, calling the two countries to continue to seek common ground while reserving differences. He called for practical cooperation to be enhanced.

Wang said China is willing to work with Australia to expand cooperation, and he hoped that Australia will provide a sound business environment and treat Chinese companies and products fairly.

Farrell said that the two sides have recently made substantial progress in advancing bilateral economic and trade relations, while properly handling each other's key economic and trade concerns.

Australia is willing to strengthen cooperation with China through multilateral and regional platforms such as WTO and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Farrell said.

The joint ministerial economic commission presided by Wang and Farrell on Friday is the first such meeting since 2017, which is of significance to their improving bilateral relations, Chen Hong, president of the Chinese Association of Australian Studies and director of the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University, told the Global Times.

It could be considered as a starting point for the reset of their bilateral relations, according to Chen, which hit a very low point due to the anti-China policy by the previous Australian government.

In May 2021, the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top economic planner, announced that it would indefinitely suspend all activities under the China-Australia strategic economic dialogue.

Trade and economic activities between China and Australia were heavily affected amid soured ties. In 2022, bilateral trade reached $220.91 billion, down 3.9 percent year-on-year. Australian exports to China totaled $142.09 billion, a drop of 13.1 percent. 

Multiple Australian goods including coal, wine and lobsters have lost ground in the Chinese market as Chinese companies sought trade alternatives to Australian goods.

But the outlook for bilateral ties has been improving since the Australian Labor Party led by Anthony Albanese came into power last year. Now, high-level official interactions are on the rise.

"We applaud efforts by the Albanese government to stabilize and improve Australia's relationship with China. In the 'Doing Business in China' survey that we launched in December last year, the 'state of bilateral relations' was identified as the top risk affecting future investments in China by Australian companies," Vaughn Barber, chairman of China-Australia Chamber of Commerce (AustCham China), told the Global Times.

"The Australian business community in China welcomes Minister Farrell's visit. Elimination of the remaining 'trade blockages' on some of Australia's trade with China would remove another key challenge, which was highlighted by respondents in our survey. It would be a win-win outcome for Australian exporters and Chinese importers and end-consumers," Barber said.

Improving the once fraught relationship has been a top-down process since the Bali summit between the two countries' leaders in November, and the momentum is gaining pace, Chen said. He predicted that the two sides will find more room for cooperation including in clean energy and green economy.

During Friday's economic talks, the two ministers agreed on several issues, including restarting the free trade agreement joint committee, strengthening green and low-carbon cooperation, and supporting cooperation between enterprises from both countries in digital trade and e-commerce.

Farrell's visit came on the heels of the visits by Australian state leaders including Daniel Andrews, premier of Victoria in March, and West Australian Premier Mark McGowan in April.