Top trade officials of China, Australia agree to virtual meeting for trade talks

China and Australia’s top trade representatives will meet for virtual talks after months of speculation and delays, the latest sign of a potential breakthrough in the economic dispute between the two countries.

Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao and his Australian counterpart Trade Minister Don Farrell will meet via video link for their first discussion since the election of the Labor government in Australia in May 2022. However, the two sides have yet to agree on a date for the meeting.

It comes after growing indications of a thawing in trade ties between China and Australia, following more than two years of sanctions on Australian exports by Beijing.

The bans and tariffs on Australian wine, coal and seafood began after former prime minister Scott Morrison called for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19 in April 2020, infuriating the Chinese government.

But two-and-a-half years later, amid warming diplomatic ties between China and the new Australia government, discussions were held in January in Beijing’s National Development and Reform Commission to allow four major importers to restart the lucrative coal trade with Australia.

At the same time, China’s consul in Perth, Long Dingbin, paid a visit to Australia’s largest seafood exporter on January 10, Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative.

While top officials from Australia and China have held talks since the May election, including both nations’ foreign and defense ministers, there had been no indication of a planned meeting between Wang and Farrell despite several outreaches by Canberra.

Speaking to journalists in Canberra on January 10, China’s Ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian denied there had ever been official trade sanctions placed on Australian goods. However Xiao said if Chinese companies wanted to start purchasing Australian coal, that was a decision for them.

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