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Australian PM says deal reached with China over wine tariffs, will meet Xi in November

SYDNEY: Australia’s prime minister will visit China in early November to meet President Xi Jinping, Canberra confirmed on Sunday (Oct 22), as the two trading partners work to repair a once-frosty relationship.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese locked in the trip – from Nov 4 to Nov 7 – after China agreed to suspend a festering World Trade Organization dispute sparked by hefty tariffs on Australian wine.

It also follows the release of Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who was deported from China earlier this month after being detained for three years on espionage charges widely seen as politically motivated.

“I look forward to visiting China, an important step towards ensuring a stable and productive relationship,” Albanese said in a statement.

“I welcome the progress we have made to return Australian products, including Australian wine, to the Chinese market.”

The widely anticipated trip would be the first to China by an Australian prime minister since 2016.

Related:

Australian wine industry faces hangover from China's high tariffs

TARIFF DISPUTE

China slapped tariffs on key Australian exports such as barley, beef and wine in 2020, flexing its economic muscle at the height of a bitter dispute with Australia’s former conservative government.

It also halted imports of some of Australia’s most significant commodities, including coal, curbing billions of dollars in trade.

China had been angered by Australian laws barring Huawei from 5G contracts and its call for an independent investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of those trade barriers have been slowly wound back after Australia’s centre-left government– elected in May last year – adopted a less confrontational approach.

This year, China has dropped tariffs on Australian barley, ended an import ban on Australian timber, and agreed to resume receiving shipments of Australian coal.

Over the next five months China will conduct an “expedited review” of its tariffs on Australian wine, Albanese said.

Australia has threatened to resume complaints to the World Trade Organization if “the duties are not removed at the end of the review”, he added.

SOFTENING TENSIONS

There has also been progress on diplomatic fronts, with China earlier this month agreeing to free Australian journalist Cheng, a former anchor for Chinese state broadcaster CGTN.

Australia’s government had long campaigned for her release, calling for China to follow “basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment”.

Recent economic data released by Beijing suggests the country’s post-COVID recovery is running out of steam and growth is slowing, heaping pressure on the terms of China’s external trade relationships.

The softening of tensions with Canberra comes as Chinese President Xi has taken a more pragmatic diplomatic approach with international partners.

Xi had called for relations with Australia to “improve” in a November 2022 meeting with Albanese on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia.

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