More cooperation, biz opportunities seen ahead as win-win mood spreads

Employees work on the production line of tractors, which are bound for export to Australia, in Luoyang, Henan province. (ZHANG YIXI / FOR CHINA DAILY)

China and Australia enhanced their economic and trade relations last week, and this will offer institutional support for business cooperation, besides creating more commercial opportunities for both sides, experts and company leaders said on Monday.

They were reacting to the renewed dialogue between Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao and Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell, which marked the 16th China-Australia Joint Ministerial Economic Commission in Beijing on Friday, held under the aegis of China's Ministry of Commerce.

During the meeting, Wang called on Australia to make efforts with China to expand common interests and address each other's concerns on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.

In a separate statement released on Saturday, Farrell said the two sides agreed to step up dialogue under their existing free trade agreement and other platforms, in order to stabilize the bilateral trade relationship.

The two ministers discussed opportunities for further cooperation, including topics on climate change, digital trade and e-commerce, and the reform of the World Trade Organization.

This was the first in-person meeting between the trade and commerce ministers of the two countries since 2019. The last China-Australia Joint Ministerial Economic Commission was held in Beijing in 2017.

The renewed engagement between the two countries signifies an improvement in bilateral business ties, said Zhou Mi, a senior researcher at the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation.

The high-level dialogues to follow would offer institutional guarantees, foster confidence among businesses and build stable expectations, said Zhou.

China-Australia trade dropped by almost 4 percent year-on-year to $220.92 billion in 2022, data from China's General Administration of Customs showed.

However, their total trade value surged nearly 11 percent year-on-year to $58.79 billion in the first quarter of this year.

The growth in foreign trade figures during this period indicates that China-Australia trade and economic relations have entered a phase of substantial improvement, with exports of wheat, cotton, iron ore and coal from Australia to China set to rise, said Chen Hong, director of the Australian Studies Center at East China Normal University in Shanghai.

"It also appears that progress has been made in efforts to resolve the China-Australia dispute over trade in barley, wine and lobsters," said Chen. "The previous Australian government tied its foreign policy excessively to the United States, undermining the China-Australia economic and trade relationship, which ultimately hurt the Australian economy."

Therefore, a long-term and effective friendly relationship with China is conducive to the development of bilateral business ties, he said.

Since global headwinds have affected the Australian economy and labor market because of its small population size and scattered manufacturing sector, China could be the best partner for Australia to help it deal with its current challenges, said Zhang Yongjun, deputy chief economist at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges in Beijing.

Jakob Stausholm, CEO of Rio Tinto, the Australian iron ore miner, said he has an optimistic short-term outlook for iron ore. There is a direct correlation between China's accelerating growth and the demand for iron ore, he said.

"Based on the current robust cooperation with China, Rio Tinto is confident in the new GDP growth target (of "around 5 percent" for 2023) China has set and we believe China is expected to make a significant contribution to global economic growth this year once again," he said.

Bellamy's Organic, an Australian organic infant milk powder and complementary baby food products provider, said it will seek to increase its sales in China by following current trends. The company will also strive to narrow the gap between itself and the new generation of young mothers through new media marketing, joint intellectual property activities and private domain marketing this year.

Daisy Liu, Bellamy's Organic's marketing general manager in China, said, "We will invest more resources in the market for midrange and high-end formula milk powder, snacks and supplementary food, to further diversify our offerings."