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Beef exports top of agenda as Steven Ciobo meets Chinese officials in Beijing

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Beijing: Trade Minister Steven Ciobo will raise China’s suspension of exports from six Australian beef processors during a series of meetings in Beijing.

Mr Ciobo – in China with assistant minister for industry Craig Laundy – said the beef issue and other “non tariff measures”, shorthand for restrictive practices imposed on another country that aren’t as blunt as higher tariffs, would be among the “challenges” addressed in his annual meeting with China’s Commerce Minister Zhong Shan.

A Chinese shopkeeper in Beijing. China has opened its borders to US beef producers in a deal the Trump administration ... A Chinese shopkeeper in Beijing. China has opened its borders to US beef producers in a deal the Trump administration hailed as a significant step in their efforts to boost US exports to the world’s second-largest economy. Photo: AP

Mr Laundy will also raise the beef ban – which China says resulted from incorrect labelling on Australian beef – in a meeting with China’s inspection and quarantine minister Zhi Shuping on Saturday.

The problems with Australian beef have coincided with China accepting US beef for the first time in 14 years. This has raised fears in the Australian business community that Australian products are being pushed aside so that China can appease US President Donald Trump.

Mr Ciobo said the bilateral meeting was a forum to work through trade issues, such as the beef freeze, as well as concerns that Australian coal is being held up in Chinese ports. 

Australia’s Department of Agriculture has given an audit report on the beef processors to Chinese authorities.

Mr Ciobo said he hoped to have “a clearer picture of timeframes [that] might be involved”, adding: “I don’t want it to take months.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison will meet with the chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, He Lifang, on Saturday.

Australian farmers are concerned about the freeze on some Australian beef exports to China. Australian farmers are concerned about the freeze on some Australian beef exports to China.  

Mr Morrison will provide Chinese investors with a briefing on Australia’s Critical Infrastructure Centre, which he said would give greater clarity on rules surrounding foreign investment in Australia.

The centre was set up in January in response to national security concerns around Chinese investment in Darwin’s port, and the abandonment of the NSW government’s tender process for an electricity distributor in 2016 after two shortlisted Chinese companies were deemed by the federal government to be a national security issue.

Trade Minister Steven Ciobo. Trade Minister Steven Ciobo. Photo: Sanghee Liu

The Chinese commerce ministry this week accused the US of using national security as a protectionist tool after Mr Trump blocked the sale of a US semiconductor company, Lattice Semiconductor, to a Chinese consortium.

Mr Ciobo said the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) approved most investment applications. 

“Every country has national security exemptions and that is to be expected. Australia has been unashamedly pro-liberalised trade and pro-liberalised investment,” he said.

Former Labor trade minister Craig Emerson said: “To complete the transition from the mining boom, Chinese foreign investment into Australia is important, particularly in agribusiness and also tourism assets.”

He said Australia was doing well in attracting one million tourists annually, but there were 32 million Chinese tourists travelling the world and Australia could attract more by building better tourist facilities outside Sydney.

Mr Emerson said FIRB was “very open and reaches out to foreign investors, particularly Chinese investors.”

“The government is doing its best to facilitate and demystify,” he said.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade rising to $155 billion last year.

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