The shadow minister for foreign affairs, Simon Birmingham, says Anthony Albanese should not visit Beijing until all trade sanctions have been lifted.
Birmingham, a former trade minister in the Coalition government, said Australia “deserves to have absolute clarity that these sanctions are going to be lifted and that clarity should be there before the prime minister entertains a formal state visit to Beijing”.
“Why? Because China is acting very clearly in breach of its commitments to Australia,” Birmingham told the ABC’s Insiders.
“China is acting in breach of its commitments under the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. It’s acting in breach of commitments it’s given in a number of regional trade compacts with Australia. And it’s acting in breach of its commitment to the World Trade Organization.”
China imposed punitive tariffs of more than 80% on Australian barley at the height of diplomatic tensions in 2020, arguing the move was needed to level the playing field because the sector gained subsidies and Australian barley was being “dumped” cheaply on the Chinese market.
Australia always rejected those claims and the previous Morrison government initiated a WTO challenge. In April, the Australian government announced it had struck a deal with China over the barley trade dispute, a move apparently aimed at giving China an off-ramp to drop the tariffs without the risk of a formal ruling against the measures.
Birmingham said it was “clear” China did not want an adverse ruling from the WTO over the barley dispute, which Australia was widely expected to win, and said Australia needed to know where China would land before any Beijing trip.
“As an opposition, we have given absolute bipartisan support to the Albanese government to re-enter into dialogue with China and it’s good that the prime minister’s had that dialogue, as has the deputy prime minister, the foreign minister, and the trade minister, and we welcomed each of those, but there is a point where we should expect clear outcomes,” Birmingham said.
Australia’s trade minister, Don Farrell, said Australia would not hesitate to continue its challenge against the barley tariffs if the promised review did not lead to a complete removal of the imposts.
Farrell told Guardian Australia the Albanese government had made a “strategic” decision in April to pause the WTO challenge, in return for China launching its own review of the tariffs. That review is due to be completed in either July or August.
“We want a return to what was the case prior to the implementation of these tariffs,” Farrell said.
“We’ve made this very clear to the Chinese that if that result isn’t achieved as a result of this process of review, then we’re going to renew our application in the World Trade Organization.”
Asked whether he was confident that would be a finding in Australia’s favour, Farrell said: “Oh, look, I think there’s very little doubt about that. And I suspect one of the reasons why the Chinese have agreed to go down this path is because they probably think the same thing. So look, it showed goodwill on our part, but it also showed goodwill on the part of the Chinese that they were prepared to fast-track a reconsideration of these issues.”
The Chinese government lifted its $600m ban on Australian timber earlier in the week, but the sanctions on other Australian products including wine and seafood remain.
Albanese confirmed an invitation to visit Beijing had been offered, but said he, too, believed the sanctions would need to be dealt with first.
“I’ve said that we need to deal with the impediments to trade which are still in place, and there are other issues of course that are still there,” Albanese said on Friday.
“But I’ve made it very clear, on behalf of my government, that we’ll cooperate with China where we can, we’ll disagree where we must as well.”
The invitation to Beijing came ahead of the latest leaders’ meeting of the Quad nations – Japan, India, the US and Australia – on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima. The nations agreed on a vision statement for the Quad to help guide it as it moves forward with re-engaging the Indo-Pacific.
The vision statement took a thinly veiled swipe at China’s aggression in the region by promising to “strongly oppose destabilising or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo by force or coercion” and to respect “sovereignty – free from intimidation and coercion, and where disputes are settled in accordance with international law”.
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