Australia PM to visit China, with progress on wine, wind tower disputes

SYDNEY/BEIJING (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Sunday he will travel to China from Nov. 4 to 7 to meet with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang in a bid to stabilise relations with the country’s biggest trading partner.

The announcement of the trip to Beijing and Shanghai, the first by an Australian leader to China since 2016, came after a breakthrough on Saturday in resolving a dispute with China over its wine tariffs that have battered the industry.

China’s Commerce Ministry said on Sunday the two sides had reached a consensus to settle the WTO wine dispute as well as a dispute over Australian duties on Chinese wind towers.

Patching up relations with China, which had deteriorated over several years due to disputes over telecoms firm Huawei, espionage and COVID, has been a top priority for Albanese since he took office in 2022.

“It is important that we stabilise our relationship with China,” Albanese said.

On the visit, the leaders will discuss cooperation in areas such as economic links, climate change and “links between our people”, he said in a statmement.

“I look forward to further engaging with President Xi and Premier Li in Australia’s national interest,” he said.

Speaking in Canberra, Albanese said Australia late on Saturday had reached a deal with China to move forward to solve its World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute over wine, potentially clearing the way for the resumption of imports worth $800 million a year before the duties were imposed in 2021.

“We have agreed on the issue of wine for there to be a review of China’s position on wine tariffs to be conducted over the next months,” Albanese told reporters.

“We will suspend our action before the WTO, but we’re very confident that this will result in once again Australian wine, a great product, being able to go to China free of the tariffs.”

Albanese did not mention duties on wind towers in his comments. However, on Oct. 16, Australia’s Anti-Dumping Commission recommended lifting anti-dumping measures on Chinese wind towers. No final decision has been made yet.

“China and Australia are important trading partners of each other, and we are willing to work with the Australian side to continue to meet each other halfway through dialogue and consultation,” China’s Commerce ministry said in a statement.

The ministry added that China and Australia held “friendly consultations” on WTO disputes of mutual concern over various items, and was willing to “jointly promote the stable and healthy development of bilateral economic and trade relations.”

The announcements are the latest in a diplomatic thaw that has already seen China lift restrictions on imports of Australian coal, timber and barley, which Beijing had targeted after Canberra called for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.

The duties of up to 218% on most Australian wines were imposed in March 2021, causing trade to collapse in what had been the most valuable export market for the country’s winemakers. 

(Reporting by Sam McKeith in Sydney, Peter Hobson in Canberra, Bernard Orr and Ethan Wang in Beijing; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sonali Paul)