(Bloomberg) — Australia’s trade priority is to seal deals with the European Union and the U.K., which would give the country access to 500 million consumers, new Trade Minister Dan Tehan said.
Australia faces increasing tariffs from China, by far its largest trading partner — as tensions rise between the two countries. Tehan, who took over from Simon Birmingham last month, has written to Chinese counterparts in an effort to re-establish dialogue. He said he was hopeful the recent appointment of Chinese Trade Minister Wang Wentao would present them both with an opportunity for a fresh start to diplomatic engagement.
“I’m very keen to start a dialogue with Minister Wang but it’s something I’m happy to be patient for in waiting for a reply,” Tehan told reporters Thursday. “I’ve strongly reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to our trade and economic relationship with China. So, there’s opportunities when it comes to China.”
Still, acting “as quickly as possible” on finalizing free trade agreements with the EU and the U.K. by the end of 2021 remains a priority, he said.
“We want these agreements to be truly liberalizing,” Tehan said. “We want these agreements to be world-class agreements.”
Ties with China have been tense since 2018 when Canberra barred Huawei Technologies Co. from building its 5G network on security grounds. Last year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.
China has since hit Australian barley and wine with crippling tariffs and told traders to stop buying commodities including copper, sugar, timber and lobster. Canberra has already taken Beijing to the World Trade Organization over barley, and Tehan did not rule out launching another investigation into China over its decision to ban Australian coal.
Tehan included India, Japan and Vietnam as destinations he was considering as a part of an invigorated push into new markets, and said he would urge the U.S. under the Biden administration to re-engage with the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which former President Donald Trump abruptly left in 2017.
The new minister also said he would work with the Biden administration on addressing climate change, but denounced the idea of tariffs to reduce emissions.