SMALL STEP Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell (left) gestures as he speaks to Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao during a meeting via teleconference at Parliament House in Australia’s capital Canberra on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. AUSTRALIAN ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO VIA AP

Australia seeks ‘unimpeded trade’ with China

SYDNEY: Australia on Monday asked China to resume “unimpeded trade” as ministers from the two countries held talks to repair their strained relationship.

China slapped hefty tariffs on key Australian exports, such as barley, beef and wine, in 2020 at the height of a bitter dispute with the island continent’s former conservative government.

In recent years, they have also been jostling for influence in the strategically important South Pacific region.

Australia’s center-left government has adopted a less confrontational stance since its election in May, and on Monday discussed the eventual “full resumption of trade” with Chinese officials.

Trade Minister Don Farrell said he spoke by video link to Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao, stressing the need for “unimpeded trade for Australian exporters.”

The pair agreed to meet in person in China at an unspecified time.

The tariffs, as well as an unofficial ban on Australian coal, are estimated to have cost the country more than AU$5 billion ($3.47 billion) in revenue from Chinese markets.

Farrell said the meeting represented an “important step in the stabilization of Australia’s relations with China.”

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken last Friday scrapped a rare trip to Beijing after the Pentagon accused China of flying a spy balloon over the state of Montana.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Monday urged the two “great powers” to find a diplomatic solution.

“It’s very important, particularly at a time like this, that we ensure that competition doesn’t continue to escalate,” she said. “We all want a region that’s peaceful, stable and prosperous, and that means, amongst other things, the great powers talking to one another.”

Wong visited Beijing last December, the first such visit by an Australian foreign minister in four years.

Australia’s former government angered China by repeatedly questioning its human rights record, and by pushing for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.

At one point, Chinese government ministers refused to take calls from their Australian counterparts.

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