Canberra’s grain of sense can be cultivated

It is not a surprise to see China and Australia taking another significant step forward in resetting their trade ties, reaching an agreement with China's Ministry of Commerce confirming that the two countries have reached an agreement over their barley dispute.

As per the agreement, Australia will suspend the World Trade Organization case it lodged against China while China will step up reviews into duties imposed on imports of the grain from Australia since May 2020. Reconciliation over the barley spat would not have happened if Australia's current government under Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had not broken away from his predecessor's anti-China stance.

Resolving their dispute over barley would no doubt give further impetus to the two countries to address their differences on other trade-related issues in the near future and, thus, pave the way for them to salvage their ailing trade relations and put overall bilateral ties back onto the right track. Earlier this year, China lifted trade restrictions on Australian coal that were first imposed in late 2020.

In the generally rosy picture of China's robust foreign trade last year, which saw an increase in China's trade volume with its major trading partners, the United States, the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in particular, China-Australia trade was conspicuously the one left in the cold.

Australia's businesses have suffered heavy losses in the past two years after bilateral ties turned sour under the previous Australian government, which had jumped on the US bandwagon to contain China and pumped hostility into bilateral ties.

Statistics from China's General Administration of Customs indicate that China-Australia trade declined to $220.91 billion in 2022, down 3.9 percent year-on-year. Australian exports to China reached $142.09 billion, a drop of 13.1 percent year-on-year. This is in stark contrast to the previous state of bilateral trade, which used to be a shining and rising star among China's trading partners.

As a saying goes, better late than never. China-Australia trade can regain its former momentum as long as Canberra continues its pragmatic approach toward interactions with Beijing and sees China's development as an opportunity, rather than a threat.

If Australia needs an example of this, it does not need to look any further than France as French President Emmanuel Macron has just showed the rest of the world through his China visit that it is possible to reject bloc confrontation and adhere to an independent policy, rather than serving as someone else's vassal.