PM backs China trade row breakthrough as talks stall

·3-min read

Australia remains confident of a breakthrough in its troubled trading relationship with China despite the trade minister returning from Beijing empty handed.

Don Farrell held talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Wentao on a possible end to restrictions on billions of dollars of Australian export products such as barley, wine and lobster.

While there were no major developments out of his trip, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the talks had "gone somewhere".

"The first step towards getting understanding and getting agreements is to have dialogue," he told Adelaide radio station 5AA on Monday.

"It is a very positive thing that our Trade Minister Don Farrell ... was up there spruiking the benefit, which is a mutual benefit for Australia and China, of removing any impediments."

Mr Albanese said the in-person talks represented a positive step forward, given the years-long diplomatic freeze that began under the previous coalition government.

"Trade with China is worth more than the trade combined with the United States, Japan and South Korea. They are an important relationship for us," he said.

"We are working cooperatively wherever we can, we will disagree where we must but we are engaging in our national interest."

Senator Farrell said it would take time for trade relations to return to normal.

"My objective in this process is to simply persevere and persist so that at the end of the day all of the trade impediments are removed," he told ABC Radio on Monday.

"The problems aren't solved overnight ... we want Australian food and wine producers to get their products back into China and we want the Chinese consumers to have the advantage of the wonderful Australian product."

Business Council chief Jennifer Westacott said it was important the relationship got back on track.

"China's a different country than it used to be. But it's a hugely important part of our economic future," she told ABC radio.

Ms Westacott said Australia needed to enforce its principles but acknowledge the advantages of a huge Chinese market.

But she said businesses needed to diversify.

"We've got to look at places like India and Indonesia, these huge markets that are growing," she said. 

"But China is a really important part of our future."

In a sign of improving relations between the two countries, China's Foreign Minister Qin Gang is set to visit Australia in the coming months.

While the trip has yet to be formally announced by Beijing, it is expected to happen in July.

Opposition trade spokesman Kevin Hogan said it was disappointing Senator Farrell's trip had not yet resulted in the removal of sanctions, but acknowledged it was a positive move towards mending relations with a key trading partner.

"I publicly supported the trade minister's visit to China as a positive step in the trade relationship thaw but nevertheless join the many exporters who are disappointed that it delivered no dividend in sanction relief," he said.

"Australia has been a good faith actor in its engagement with China, reflecting the importance of the trade relationship and the longevity of our diplomatic relations."

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has also announced new members of the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations advisory board.

It includes academics and national security experts, bank and energy executives and former defence and ASIO head Duncan Lewis.