Australian trade minister to meet Chinese counterpart next week as relationship thaws

Australian trade minister to meet Chinese counterpart next week as relationship thaws

A long-awaited meeting between Australia and China’s top trade officials will take place next week, Trade Minister Don Farrell told ABC’s 7.30.

Key points: The meeting will take place online and will be the first meeting between Australia’s trade minister and Chinese counterpart in more than three years. Trade Minister Don Farrell warns ‘these problems are not going to be solved overnight’ Lobster industry hopes to see trade with China resume

“We want to stabilize that relationship,” Mr Farrell said.

“And in doing so, we want to ensure that we continue to protect our national interests and our national security.

“We want these trade barriers removed and next week I have arranged to speak virtually with my Chinese counterpart to start the ball rolling.”

The meeting follows Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s visit to China in December and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit.

Mr Farrell’s virtual meeting will be the first time ministers responsible for trade have met in more than three years and is expected to pave the way for an in-person meeting.

Commerce Minister Don Farrell says he wants to “get our products back in front of the Chinese consumers”. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)

Cautious optimism has built among some Australian businesses and exporters that China may be willing to drop its ban on several Australian products this year.

But Mr Farrell was keen to temper expectations ahead of the virtual meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Wentao.

“There was about $20 billion worth of trade that was affected,” he said.

“Lobster, the wine industry has been very badly affected, meat, barley, coal. All those products have been badly affected.

“It is my goal to stabilize this relationship as quickly as possible and get our products in front of Chinese consumers again.

“These problems are not going to be solved overnight and all the problems are not going to be solved immediately.

“But we have to start the process.”

‘Terrible impact on lobster industry’ Before the trade ban, more than 90 percent of Australian rock lobster was exported to China. (ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)

While it has managed to find new markets and new ways to diversify, Australia’s lobster industry is still feeling the pain of the trade toss.

Before 2020, more than 90 percent of Australian rock lobster was shipped to China.

“We used to supply more than $700 million worth of wonderful lobster to China,” Mr Farrell said.

“That figure has now dropped below $10 million.

“There was a terrible impact on the lobster industry.”

Western Australia produces and exports the lion’s share of rock lobster.

The rock lobster industry has been hit particularly hard by China’s trade ban. (ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)

According to the peak industry body in WA, the value of exports fell from $501 million in 2017-18 to $223 million in 2020-21.

“This has been the most profitable market for us,” said Matt Taylor, CEO of Western Rock Lobster Council.

“China can take all our stock, and they pay twice as much as the next market.

“The trade ban has effectively halved the income for our fishermen.

“It has a ripple effect on their families because a boat will often support two or three families with fathers and sons working on that boat.”

Dave Thompson says it’s been the “toughest few years I’ve ever seen”. (ABC News: Rhiannon Shine)

Dave Thompson, managing director of Cervantes Lobster Shack, said his business was forced to diversify quickly and find new markets to survive.

“It’s been the hardest few years I’ve ever seen in this [industry],” he said.

“Everything is going up and the price of lobsters is going down.

“We are surviving, but it has been survival mode for many years.

“You can’t just rely on one market.

“We’ve diversified as an industry. You seem to find people who want these lobsters all over the world, you just have to find them.”

“Unfortunate when politics gets in the way of fishing” Stephen Minutillo hopes to see trade with China resume. (ABC News: Hugh Sando)

Stephen Minutillo of Fremantle Lobster is a fifth generation fisherman and third generation lobster processor – his grandfather Tony Vinci was a pioneer of the live export industry.

Mr Minutillo said the increased cost of fuel and other expenses hit at the same time as prices essentially halved.

He hoped to see trade with China resume.

“We sold about 90 percent to China, maybe 98 percent,” he said.

“It’s a shame if politics gets in the way of fishing.

“We’ve always waited and hoped for China to come back. We have good relations with them, always have.

“We’re very excited for it to open, if it ever does.”

Other recent developments have fueled some cautious confidence in the industry, including a visit by China’s top diplomat in Perth to Australia’s biggest lobster exporter this month, the Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative.

China’s Consul General in Perth, Long Dingbin, recently toured Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative. (The Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Perth)

But Mr Taylor said the industry would continue to focus on the things within its control.

“Expectation creates disappointment,” he said.

“We just continue to catch lobster and export it to the highest paying market as we have done for a long time.

“The issues we face are beyond our control.

“This is a political problem. This is a political solution.”

Mr Farrell reiterated the Federal Government’s eagerness to diversify Australia’s trade markets.

“We have learned the lesson of being too dependent on a single market,” he said.

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