Australia will need to be able to conduct ministerial discussions with China as part of a process for the world’s second-largest economy to join a regional trade agreement, Trade Minister Dan Tehan said.
“You have to able to sit down and work through specially on market access issues,” Tehan told Bloomberg Television from Singapore on Wednesday. “So we would need some sort of ministerial dialogue to be able to work through that market accession.”
The remarks underline ongoing tensions between China and Australia that escalated further last year when Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, infuriating Beijing.
In response, China imposed punitive trade actions targeting Australian commodities from coal to barley, lobsters and wine.
Australia is currently suing China at the World Trade Organization over tariffs on barley and wine.
Tehan has previously said any applicant to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership would need a track record of “compliance with its commitments in the WTO and existing trade agreements.”
While Tehan plans to meet his counterparts from other countries this week at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, including U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, a formal dialogue with China is not mentioned in his publicized agenda.
The CPTPP issue has also become complicated by Taiwan’s application, with members divided between democracies such as Japan, Australia and Canada pushing for Taiwan’s accession, and Southeast Asian nations keen to remain in China’s good graces.
Tehan said he hasn’t had discussions with Taiwan since it formally applied to join the agreement in September.
“Like any accession the same rules will apply to whatever economy, whatever country wants to join the CPTPP,” Tehan said of Taiwan.
Separately, Tehan said that Australia is “making progress” on a free trade deal with India. Preliminary discussions are likely in the next couple of weeks and the first round of negotiations expected early next year, he said.