Address to the Australia-China Business Council Networking Day 2023, Canberra

  • Speech, check against delivery

I begin by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet, and pay my respect to Elders past, present and emerging.

Thanks to the Australia-China Business Council for inviting me to speak today.

The Council has done some great work over its 50-year history in fostering productive Australia-China business relations.

And I'd also like to recognise the important contributions the businesses represented here today have made to building the relationship.

The last few years have been tough for a lot of people. Last week, of course, you would have seen the very welcome news that Cheng Lei has returned to her home in Melbourne, after three years of detention in China.

The government has been seeking this outcome for a long time, and it's a great outcome.

And the last few years have been tough for businesses too.

But the Australian business community has always demonstrated resolve, resilience and tenacity.

As relations stabilise with China, I'm pleased to hear about the Council's ongoing work to re-establish in-person links between Australia and China.

I welcome the business delegation you led to Mainland China and Hong Kong in April this year – the first since China re-opened its borders.

Today, I'd like to focus on updating you on the Government's approach to our trade relationship with China, and where we see opportunities for future growth.

China is still our largest trading partner, and an important market for many Australian exports. Last year, our two-way goods and services trade was worth $299 billion, almost eclipsing our combined bilateral trade with the next three trading partners – the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

The tempo of our bilateral engagement has ramped up as we seek to stabilise the relationship.

Sustained engagement and advocacy by our government has led to a number of positive outcomes, that benefit both Australia and China.

Since the Albanese Labor Government came to office, we have reduced the value of trade impediments from about $20 billion to about $2 billion.

This includes the recent removal of Chinese duties on Australian barley, lifting of quarantine restrictions on logs, re-registration of oaten hay establishments, and resumption of trade of coal, cotton, and copper ores and concentrates.

And China's recent decision allowing tour groups to travel to Australia for the first time since the start of the COVID pandemic is an important step in the recovery of the Australian tourism sector.

But of course, there are still several challenges and unresolved issues on the trade front that we need to work through.

As I've said before, we would prefer to resolve our trade issues with China through discussion and dialogue rather than through the World Trade Organization's dispute settlement system.

We have been very clear that the approach used for the lifting of tariffs on barley is the pathway we'd like to use for dealing with the wine dispute.

In the meantime, we will continue to press our case for wine through the WTO.

We'll keep actively engaging to resolve outstanding trade impediments affecting not only wine, but also live lobster and red meat.

I remain optimistic, that the technical issues affecting live lobster and red meat exports can be resolved soon.

As we know, Australian businesses are resourceful, and that plenty of firms and industries have successfully diversified and expanded into other markets.

We continue to support Australian businesses engagement in the Chinese market, while encouraging them to manage risk and explore new market opportunities that are being created by the Albanese Labor Government.

Successful businesses know that overreliance on any single customer comes with significant risks.

We should not put all our trade eggs in one basket.

That's why trade diversification is the central plank of this Government's trade policy strategy.

That's not to say we turn away from doing business with China.

We can walk and chew gum at the same time.

A mature Chinese economy means that new opportunities will come from demand for green resources, and service sectors like financial and health services, tourism and education.

Australia is well positioned to benefit from this, with the experience of the Australian business community, the continued work of organisations like the ACBC, and our strong complementarities being key to continued growth.

Already, we've seen Australian businesses are ready to take on new opportunities for trade.

I have already mentioned that Australia's recent inclusion on the Chinese list of approved destinations for tour groups is welcome news for our nation's tourism operators.

And we've already got strong links in education.

Despite COVID-related disruptions to the sector, Chinese students are still our largest cohort of international students.

These students help build critical links between our two countries, fostering life-long friendships, and cultural and commercial opportunities.

A key common objective for both Australia and China is achieving net zero emissions.

In meetings with my Chinese counterpart this year, we agreed to explore further opportunities for cooperation on a wider range of issues, including to address shared global challenges like climate change.

On health services, there is plenty of potential ahead – particularly with Australia and China both needing to address the challenges of an ageing population.

How we manage that transition and improve our peoples' quality of life is a shared opportunity.

Australian companies are already exporting, investing and partnering to deliver health and aged care products and services in China.

And there's plenty of opportunity for more commercial cooperation in this area.

So, those are the areas where the Government sees opportunities for growth.

My visit to Shanghai early next month to attend the Sixth China International Import Expo will help support Australian businesses' promote their world class goods and services to discerning Chinese buyers.

I am pleased to hear that this year's Expo is fully subscribed, with a record number of over 150 Australian companies expected to attend.

I know that the National Foundation for Australia China Relations continues to work hard with Australian businesses to promote connections and practical cooperation with China across a range of fields.

They're building personal links through internships and leadership programs for Australian and Chinese international students and youth leaders.

These are just a few of the ways we are looking to strengthen business ties, and we're always open to new ideas.

Thanks for your time today.

This Government is serious about stabilising and developing Australia's relationship with China.

Yes, there are challenges.

But, collaboration opportunities abound, and I welcome the contribution of Australian businesses in seizing these opportunities.

I also encourage businesses to expand into new markets created through the Government's trade diversification strategy.

Congratulations again to the Council on its events this week, and thanks again.

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