Thu, Jun 07, 2018 - Page 10 News List

Winemakers press Australia’s Turnbull to make China trip

APPEAL:Representatives from wine companies were to meet with the assistant agriculture minister to express their concern over trade tensions with China

Reuters, SYDNEY

Australian winemakers yesterday urged Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to visit China to resolve diplomatic tensions blamed for trade obstacles that have raised concerns for the future of a US$650 million wine export market.

As many as six Australian wine companies, including Treasury Wine Estates Ltd — the world’s biggest listed winemaker — have faced delays at Chinese customs this year amid the diplomatic rift between Canberra and Beijing.

Australian beef and citrus producers are also calling on the government to do more to resolve the tensions with Australia’s largest trading partner, sparked by Canberra’s allegations of Chinese economic coercion and political meddling.

Representatives from companies were yesterday to hold talks with Australian Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Anne Ruston, Wine Federation of Australia chief executive Tony Battaglene said.

“There is a meeting today with Senator Ruston, where it will be suggested that the prime minister travel to China,” he said. “There is obvious concern about China from the government, but for us, we must all be aware that they are an extremely important strategic partner.”

Beijing has shunned Australian officials in recent months, casting doubt on a visit to China by Turnbull expected later this year. Left unresolved, the issue could become a sore point for the government ahead of elections next year.

“The prime minister has indicated a willingness to go to China. It obviously has got to be married against a number of other competing demands in terms of time,” Australian Minister for Trade and Investment Steven Ciobo told reporters in Canberra.

“There is a trade irritant that is there, but when you put it in the context of where trade is going, when you look at the growth we’ve had of beef and wine exports, I think it is important that we don’t mischaracterize what is happening,” he added.

Ciobo last month became the first elected Australian official to travel to China in more than seven months, but he was largely shunned during his visit.

Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop has not visited China since 2016.

China has denied the allegations of meddling in Australian political affairs and says there have been no unusual restrictions on Australian exports.

Australian government lobbying had seen wine shipments begin to slowly flow again into China, but a backlog remained, Battaglene said.

Australia’s wine exports to China were worth A$848 million (US$648.4 million) last year.

The meeting comes just a day after senior government officials accused China of applying undue political pressure on Qantas Airways Ltd to change its Web site to refer to Taiwan as a Chinese territory.

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