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Australia seeks other trade partners amid tiff with China

17 June 2020

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says Australia is actively seeking to diversify its export markets after noting measures enacted by Beijing amid an ongoing diplomatic dispute that will harm Australian farmers and Chinese producers and consumers.

Reuters reports that Australia is seeking to strike free trade deals with the UK and EU this year.

Speaking to the National Press Club in Canberra, Minister Birmingham highlighted that the EU bloc was already Australia’s third-largest trading partner.

China is, however, Australia’s largest trading partner. Two-way trade was worth an estimated $235 billion AUD ($162 billion) in 2019.

Reuters reports that one in five Australian jobs rely on trade. Birmingham told reporters that Australia would seek to expand its options. Canberra could see the potential for clean energy partnerships with Europe as well as building on existing agreements with Japan and South Korea for hydrogen exports.

China recently imposed dumping tariffs on Australian barley, suspended some beef imports and warned Chinese students and tourists it wasn't safe to travel to Australia because of allegations of racism.

Birmingham said it was disappointing he had so far been unable to speak to his Chinese counterpart about the series of trade measures, which Chinese state media have linked to Australia's lobbying for an international investigation into the source and spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The trade partnership with China was built over many years based on pragmatism, but Australia wouldn't "sell out our national interest", he said.

"It isn't a question of idealism. The truth is we believe in our exporters and the quality of their offerings - the reliability and integrity of our supply, and our competitiveness on price," he said.

The minister said China's barley tariffs would cost Australian farmers $330 million AUD in lost market access, but would potentially cost Chinese producers $3.6 billion AUD as beer makers were unable to source the Australian ingredients they needed.

He said Australia and China "share the same dynamic region of the world" and Canberra wanted a positive relationship.

Read more about this story on Financial Post.


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