Australian CEOs eye return to China in 2023

Australian chief executives are eagerly awaiting a formal invitation from the Australian government to visit China as part of a business delegation next year as the two nations re-establish diplomatic ties and resume economic and trade dialogues.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong met with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing earlier this week, during which she advocated for China to lift its tariffs on Australian exports and the pair recommitted to facilitating business relationships.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s meeting with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi has given business leaders hope of visiting China in 2023.Credit:AAP/Lukas Coch

“We agreed to restart … the Australia-China CEO Roundtable and visits by bilateral business delegations,” Wong said in a statement of joint outcomes following her meeting with Wang.

The meeting’s positive outcome was welcomed by local business leaders and has ignited hopes of a trip to China in 2023 to reconnect with business partners and customers.

“You can’t repair this relationship without lines of communication. It’s still early days and businesses are realistic about how challenging it is to manage this relationship,” said Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott.

“There hasn’t been a formal request or invitation for a business delegation yet but we’re ready to work closely with the Australian government to engage with China in a way that secures better trade and a more stable region.”

When the relevant federal minister extends an invitation to business groups, the delegation is expected to be coordinated between the Business Council of Australia, the Australia China Business Council, and government trade investment agency Austrade.

Matt Comyn, the chief executive of the Commonwealth Bank and a board member at the Business Council, is expected to be part of the delegation if it goes ahead. CBA sold a stake in the Bank of Hangzhou for $1.8 billion in March, but committed to retaining a 5.57 per cent stake in the Chinese bank for at least another three years. The bank also has a smaller minority stake in Chinese lender Qilu Bank.

The BCA has also been in touch with National Australia Bank chief executive Ross McEwan, who is considering attending depending on the timing of the delegation and whether it goes ahead.

The removal of China’s hefty trade tariffs, imposed in November 2020 on $20 billion worth of Australian goods, would be materially significant for Penfolds maker Treasury Wine Estates, which was forced to pivot to other Asian and American markets and launch a line of Penfolds made in Ningxia, China.

“Personally, I’m looking forward to travelling to China again in 2023 and re-connecting with our staff, customers and partners face-to-face,” said Treasury Wine CEO Tim Ford.

Treasury Wine Estates CEO Tim Ford in Penfolds’ Shanghai office in 2018.Credit:Grainnie Quinlan

“While it’s too early to tell whether there will be a change in tariffs for Australian wine in the short term, the dialogue is encouraging and we strongly support further diplomatic and business engagement … We remain committed to the Chinese market for the long term.”

BHP chief Mike Henry is also likely to be part of any Australian business delegation sent to China. In a statement, the mining giant said it welcomed the “positive and constructive engagement” between the two nations on the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

“We look forward to supporting bilateral business delegations and CEO roundtable engagements. We are also looking forward to meeting our with our customers and partners in person once travel restrictions are lifted,” the statement said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reaffirmed Wong’s sentiments that it was in the interest of both countries to remove China’s tariffs.

“The Australian Government looks forward to the resumption of business delegations between Australia and China, and to renewed dialogue in trade and economic issues,” the spokesperson said.

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