Australia PM to visit China, taking steps to resolve wine dispute

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Sunday he would travel to China from Nov 4 to 7 to meet with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang in a bid to stabilise relations between the two countries.

The announcement of the trip to Beijing and Shanghai, the first by an Australian leader to China since 2016, came after a breakthrough on Saturday in a dispute with China over wine tariffs and confirms a significant improvement in ties.

Albanese took office in 2022 intent on patching up relations with Australia's biggest trading partner, which had deteriorated over several years due to disputes over telecoms firm Huawei, espionage and Covid.

On the visit, the leaders will discuss cooperation in areas such as economic links, climate change and "links between our people", Albanese said in a statement.

"I look forward to further engaging with President Xi and Premier Li in Australia's national interest," he said.

Speaking in Canberra, Albanese said Australia late on Saturday had reached a deal with China to move forward to solve its World Trade Organisation (WTO) dispute over wine, potentially clearing the way for the resumption of imports worth US$800 million a year before the duties were imposed in 2020.

"We have agreed on the issue of wine for there to be a review of China's position on wine tariffs to be conducted over the next months," Albanese told reporters.

"We will suspend our action before the WTO but we're very confident that this will result in once again Australian wine, a great product, being able to go to China free of the tariffs.

"It is important that we stabilise our relationship with China," the prime minister said, adding that the wine deal was not "transactional" in return for Australia easing tariffs on some Chinese imports.

The move is the latest in a diplomatic thaw between the two countries that has already seen China lift restrictions on imports of Australian commodities such as coal, timber and barley worth billions of dollars.

China announced in November 2020 it would impose anti-dumping and countervailing duties of up to 218 per cent on most Australian wine, causing trade to collapse. The measures were part of a barrage of trade restrictions that China imposed after Australia called for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19.

Most of the trade restrictions have been lifted since a change of government in Canberra last year. Aside from wine, China maintains barriers on imports of lobsters and meat from some abattoirs.

Before China imposed the tariffs, it was the most valuable export market for Australian winemakers. In 2019, Australia shipped wine worth around US$800 million to China, its trade data show. Last year, exports were worth US$11 million. — Reuters

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