New federal Trade Minister Dan Tehan wants Australia to reset relations with it’s biggest trading partner, China.
New federal Trade Minister Dan Tehan wants Australia to reset relations with it’s biggest trading partner, China.

Tehan aims for patience on China trade

New federal Trade Minister Dan Tehan is preaching patience with China as he tries to reset relations with Australia's biggest trading partner after the Communist Party's crackdown on our exports.

But in his first interview in the portfolio, Mr Tehan warned he could call in the independent trade umpire over China's blockade on Australian coal that has left about 60 ships stranded.

He revealed his agenda this year also included signing free trade deals with the United Kingdom and the European Union - providing exporters free access to another 500 million customers - and lobbying the United States to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Mr Tehan is also the new Tourism Minister, and said the international border was unlikely to reopen before the end of October, and possibly not until 2022.

With the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme ending in March, he said the government was considering further financial aid for businesses hit hardest by the loss of overseas tourists.

Mr Tehan said the tourism sector had reported a "very strong summer" overall, despite the damage caused to some businesses by snap interstate border restrictions.

But he said he had sought data from the industry to figure out how to target extra aid to those most exposed to economic pain caused by the ongoing international border closure.

"I'll continue to have those discussions and engage with the sector, and look to see whether there is specific or targeted support that could be provided or is needed," Mr Tehan said.

Since taking the new portfolio, Mr Tehan wrote to China's Commerce Minister Wang Wentao to restore relations, after government ministers were unable to get their calls returned last year as China slapped restrictions on Australian exports including beef, barley, wine and lobster.

"He's new to his portfolio like I'm new to my portfolio. I'm obviously very keen to begin a dialogue," Mr Tehan said.

"I'm happy to be patient in waiting for a reply and then seeing what form that dialogue takes."

He said China's actions last year were "incredibly disappointing".

Asked if Australia was also at risk of losing Chinese students and tourists, Mr Tehan said the government wanted all exporters to "be doing everything they can to diversify their markets", but he hoped Chinese visitors would return when the border reopened.

Mr Tehan welcomed the election of Joe Biden, saying he was pleased the US would again play a more significant role in multilateral and regional organisations, which could also help Australia reconnect with China.

tom.minear@news.com.au

 

Originally published as Tehan aims for patience on China trade