Trade ties top Albanese’s agenda on day one of landmark China trip

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese speaks during the opening ceremony of the sixth China International Import Expo.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese speaks during the opening ceremony of the sixth China International Import Expo. Photo: Getty

Anthony Albanese said cementing Australia’s most significant trading relationship has been the main focus of the first day of a landmark visit to China.

The Prime Minister’s political opponents have cast his diplomatic mission to China, the first in seven years, as a personal frolic or distraction from managing inflation.

But speaking from a major trade show in Shanghai, Albanese said diplomatic efforts to stabilise the relationship with China were about the economy.

“This is a critical relationship,” he said, after speaking at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai.

“One in four Australian jobs depends on exports, and more than one in four of Australia’s export dollars are from China. This is a market of 1.4 billion people.”

Chinese Premier Li Qiang, who had hosted Albanese with a banquet on his arrival, watched the speech at the conference attended by more than 200 exporters such as Blackmores and Sanitarium.

In his speech at the expo, Li described China’s economy as the “engine room of global recovery” after the pandemic, and said the country would be increasingly open to commercial opportunity.

Li said the country would expand the breadth of its imports over the next five years, which he said would be worth a combined total of $US17 trillion.

Australia’s annual total goods and services trade with China nearly doubled after signing a 2015 free trade agreement to reach $299 billion in 2022.

Before the pandemic, two-way trade amounted to 11.7 per cent of Australia’s total economic output, according to government statistics.

In Western Australia alone, the trading relationship contributed an estimated 245,000 jobs to the state’s economy before recent disruptions.

A Tourism Australia reception followed the event; China was the largest source of visitors to Australia before the pandemic, with visits worth more than $12 billion.

Albanese’s arrival in Shanghai comes after China progressively rewound most of the more than $20 billion in trade sanctions on Australia, levied after a breakdown in relations under the Morrison government three years ago.

China lifted tariffs on Australian barley in August and last week agreed to a similar move on Australian wine – tariffs that had closed off an export market worth $1.2 billion to Australian producers, leaving cellars full of billions of bottles of unsaleable wine.

About $1 billion worth of tariffs on rock lobster and beef are still in force and the subject of ongoing negotiations.

Albanese will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday.

Xi is expected to request Australia’s backing for its bid to join the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multitrillion-dollar regional free trade agreement Donald Trump pulled out of in controversial and costly circumstances in 2017.

The Prime Minister declined to pre-empt the meeting.

“What we’ve said is any country must demonstrate it can meet the high standards of the agreement, and that is the basis of that going forward,” he said.

The two leaders last met in Bali a year ago, in a significant step towards repairing frayed ties.

Albanese’s trip this week coincides with the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s historic visit to China, the first to establish diplomatic relations with any communist country at the peak of the Cold War.

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