DURING a bilateral meeting on Friday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Chinese premier Li Keqiang secured a new trade deal that will grant 36 Australian beef exporters licenses for China.
In the past, 11 firms were granted access, which in total supplied around AUD600 million (US$460 million) of beef exports annually. But more than beef exports, the meeting highlighted the importance of free trade deals, the dangers of protectionism, and the continued alliance between the two countries.
Li Keqiang, the second most important leader in China, visited Australia for a host of bilateral discussions and forums with politicians and business leaders.
The events are some of the largest ever staged between Australia and China. Turnbull praised the relationship, stating that it has been turned into a “reliable, valuable and trusted” partnership that has been forged over centuries.
“It’s our strong and dynamic economic relationship that brings us here today,” Turnbull said, while acknowledging the relationship must improve in certain areas. More than 96 percent of Australia’s trade with China, covering both imports and exports, receive preferential treatment.
“The doors of these markets – of our markets to each other – have been opened wider than in any time in our history, but we can and will do more,” Turnbull continued.
The relationship between Australia and China highlights a commitment to free trade and open markets.
In light of growing rhetoric from the United States against the benefits of an internationalised trading system, Canberra and Beijing continue to avoid protectionist policies that may harm economic interests. Turnbull said:
“Protectionism is not a ladder to get you out of a low growth trap – it’s a big shovel to dig it deeper.”
Li also spoke about the need for open trade policies. “We believe expanding two-way trade will be good for improving the trade balance and let us jointly send out to the world the strong message of upholding free trade,” he said.
“It is my hope that the outcomes of this roundtable meeting will be turned into consensus among the business communities of both countries.”
Throughout the meeting, Li also defended Chinese actions in the South China Sea, arguing that Beijing that was not militarising the region. He insisted the military hardware being installed on the artificial islands built of sand and rock intend to allow for freedom of navigation.
“China’s facilities on Chinese islands and reefs are primarily for civilian purposes, and even if there is a certain amount of defence equipment of facilities, (it) is for maintaining the freedom of navigation and overflight,” he said in a separate press conference.
The meeting garnered the attention of Falun Gong practitioners and Tibetan activists who protested against the state of human rights in China.
Australia, similar to other countries, has prioritised economic and trade deals above human rights concerns in its relationship with China.
Other members of the Chinese community in Australia welcomed the premier with signs and flags.