Australia’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese, announced on Sunday that he would visit China early next month, meeting with its top leader, Xi Jinping. Such a visit would be the first by an Australian leader since 2016 and another sign of easing tensions between the two nations, along with the recent release of a detained Australian journalist and a breakthrough on talks aimed at removing staggering tariffs on Australian wine that China imposed three years ago.
China is Australia’s biggest overseas market, with exports and services to China forming nearly one-third of Australia’s overall trade. But that relationship suffered a heavy blow in April 2020, after the prime minister at the time, Scott Morrison, called for an independent investigation into the origin of Covid-19. In retaliation for what it called “political games” intended to assign blame for the pandemic, Beijing imposed punitive tariffs on Australian barley, beef, cotton, coal and wine.
In 2019, Australia had shipped wine with a value of $800 million to China; sales there dropped 97 percent in the first year after tariffs were imposed. As storage tanks overflowed, farmers faced a choice between selling grapes at a huge loss or keeping costs to a minimum and not harvesting.
On Sunday, Mr. Albanese, who since his election last year has sought to improve ties with Australia’s giant neighbor, said that China had agreed to review duties ranging between 116.2 percent and 218.4 percent on Australian bottled wine. The Australian government would suspend a complaint it had lodged with the World Trade Organization to challenge the China tariffs, he added.
Mr. Albanese said that he was “very confident” that the tariffs would be removed. China lifted punitive duties on barley in August after a similar review. Restrictions on Australian coal and timber have also been removed.
“We’re very confident that this will result in, once again, Australian wine, a great product, being able to go to China, free of the tariffs which have been imposed by China,” Mr. Albanese said in a news conference.
During his visit starting Nov. 4, Mr. Albanese, in addition to meeting with Mr. Xi in Beijing, will attend the China International Import Expo in Shanghai with Premier Li Qiang. Mr. Li and Mr. Albanese held bilateral talks at the East Asia Summit in Indonesia in September. Mr. Albanese’s office said he planned to discuss cooperation in trade and climate change, among other issues.
Another recent diplomatic breakthrough was the release of Cheng Lei. Ms. Cheng, an Australian journalist who worked for China’s global television network and was detained three years ago, returned to Australia in October. Her detention had prompted questions about whether the Chinese government was increasingly using “hostage diplomacy.”