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“I’m not sure that the White House can control Napa Valley exports of wines to China so there may be pockets of the business community that have stepped in to fill demand but I think as a general matter we absolutely in the relationship need to try to make sure we are backing each other up when there is undue pressure placed on one of us by China.”
Addressing the same panel, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade deputy secretary with responsibility for Indo-Pacific policy, Justin Hayhurst, said there had been some official statements from China that suggested some of the trade sanctions had a “political purpose”.
While China has frozen top-level contact for several years, Mr Hayhurst said from Australia’s perspective there was always a readiness for ministerial or leader level dialogue on any topic.
“I think the government of Australia, as you’ve seen, isn’t going to lurch from one policy position to the other,” he said.
“We want to be steady, we want to be ready for conversations on no preconditions, and our companies are very competitive, very reliable and are willing to supply markets wherever they can find them.”
Chinese media has highlighted examples of American exports increasing sales to China, seemingly at the expense of Australian producers, as evidence of how the Morrison government’s stance against Beijing was causing economic damage and how the US was putting self-interest ahead of allies.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg this week urged Australian businesses to adopt a ‘China-plus’ strategy and diversify their markets, even as he hailed the resilience of the economy in the face of China’s trade strikes.
One of the first commodities to be hit by China was barley, with an 80 per cent tariff imposed last year because of supposed dumping and subsidies for farmers.
The Morrison government referred the matter to the WTO in December, and the body on Monday finally named the members of the panel to oversee the dispute.
Brazil, Canada, the European Union, India, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the US have flagged their interest in the case.
India’s foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told the Crawford Forum on Monday night there had been progress towards a free trade agreement between Australia and India.