Australian government says ‘yeah, no’ to deal with China to drop wine tariffs

Reported package offer from Beijing was attempt to ‘meet Australian side halfway’ but Australia sees issues as ‘entirely separate matters’

The Australian government has said “yeah, no” to a reported package deal offer from China to drop its tariffs on Australian wine in return for more favourable treatment of its wind towers, railway wheels and stainless steel sinks.

The agriculture, forestries and fisheries minister, Murray Watt, said on Sunday that the Albanese government regards these as “entirely separate matters” but will seek to resolve remaining trade issues through dialogue.

In August, China announced it would remove tariffs on Australian barley, resulting in Australia dropping its dispute in the World Trade Organization.

The Albanese government has maintained its active WTO challenge against China’s tariffs of up to 212% on Australian wine and continues to press for these to be removed.

This week, China’s official news agency, Xinhua, reported that the Chinese commerce ministry spokesperson He Yadong had said Beijing was proposing a “package” deal to end the dispute.

“We are willing to meet the Australian side halfway, further enhance mutual trust and cooperate on the basis of the settlement of the barley case dispute,” he reportedly said.

The Chinese government spokesperson reportedly said both countries needed to “accommodate each other’s concerns”, including about decisions taken by the Australian anti-dumping commission on Chinese wind towers, railway wheels and stainless steel sinks.

Asked about the Australian government’s position on the offer, Watt told ABC’s Insiders that “we see these as entirely separate matters”.

“Obviously as a result of the great work of the prime minister, the foreign minister, the trade minister and others, we have been able to stabilise our relationship with China and that is paying dividends for our farmers in areas like barley, horticulture, cotton and others.

“But wine remains an issue that we want to see resolved … in the same way the barley dispute was resolved – through dialogue.

“We will continue our case before the WTO about China’s anti-dumping tariffs when it comes to wine.

“That trade was worth about a billion dollars to Australia before those tariffs were imposed. It is down to about $16m a year now, so it is important.”

Asked if that was a no to the package deal, Watt replied: “Yeah, no.

“We see them as entirely separate matters. We will continue our WTO case when it comes to wine and we will continue to defend the case when it comes to steel, but we hope that all of these thing also be resolved by dialogue.”

Earlier in September, the government revealed the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, will travel to China, another key step in efforts to “stabilise” a relationship that hit rock bottom in 2020.

Albanese’s trip is likely to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Gough Whitlam’s first trip to China as prime minister.


Paul Karp Chief political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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