The Labor government is open to discussing ways to avoid World Trade Organization arbitration over its trade dispute with China, amid speculation of a possible meeting between Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and President Xi Jinping.
In a speech in Melbourne on Monday, Trade Minister Don Farrell said Australia was willing to discuss ‘exit ramps’ with the Chinese government instead of forcing a WTO ruling on trade disputes between Canberra and Beijing.
However, he said, no matter what happened at the WTO, Australian companies were looking to “minimize risk exposure” by diversifying away from the Chinese market.
“As we have discovered, overreliance on a single trading partner carries significant risks,” Farrell said in his speech. “That is why trade diversification is the central element of the government’s trade policy strategy.”
Australia and China have been locked in a trade dispute since 2020. Following a speech by then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for an international inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 in April this year There, China imposed trade sanctions on Australian exports, including meat, coal, barley and wine.
More than two years later, the vast majority of sanctions are still in place and the Australian government has raised concerns with the WTO. In 2021, Canberra asked a WTO panel to review punitive sanctions imposed by China on Australian barley and wine exports.
Any major warming of relations would require the restoration of full commercial relations, Albanese said. The Australian government has raised the possibility of a meeting between Albanese and Xi at the upcoming G20 summit in Bali, where the Australian leader said he would raise trade issues.
Albanese met briefly with outgoing Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on the sidelines of the ASEAN meeting in Cambodia over the weekend, which he called “constructive”. It was the first face-to-face meeting between an Australian leader and a senior Chinese official since 2019.