Australia and China talk trade in a time of Trump

Trade will be at the forefront of talks when China's Premier Li Keqiang visits Australia this week for official talks with Malcolm Turnbull.


President Trump and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison insist it matters whether China is classified as “developed” or “developing” in the World Trade Organisation matters. It may not. Image from Shutterstock

Trade will be at the forefront of talks when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visits Canberra and Sydney from Wednesday for official talks with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, according to UNSW Business School’s Tim Harcourt.

"When China's Premier Li Keqiang is in Australia, Down Under can be seen as a reliable trading partner in the Asia Pacific region in contrast to the Trump administration,” says Harcourt, the JW Nevile Fellow of Economics UNSW Business School. 

“The Trans Pacific Partnership – or TPP – was ready to be rolled out, but then President Trump walked away from US involvement. Indeed, as the US leaves the TPP, in some ways Australian and China will be a beneficiary, as China can promote its own pacts like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and play more of a regional leadership role in term of the region.

“China is by far Australia’s number one trading partner. We have a Free Trade Agreement, support each other in institutions like the WTO, APEC and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and are generally strong partners on the world stage.”

Li Keqiang and wife Madame Cheng Hong will be in Australia until Sunday, and Turnbull has indicated that the leaders will announce the next stage of the China-Australia free trade deal.

“Open trade has been one of the world’s greatest anti-poverty programmes – especially in the Asia Pacific region – with China the classic case in point. In the age of Trump, both China and Australia can fill this vacuum and play a key role in promoting equitably case for globalisation,” Harcourt adds.

Cooperation on energy, research, innovation, law enforcement, education and tourism will also be on the agenda during their talks.

“Australia’s credentials as a tourist and higher education destination will improve as we will be considered a safe place for international students who can get a quality education and chance of work ... putting our institutions at a premium in the age of Trump,” Harcourt says. “Both Australia and China have a lot to gain.”

Tim Harcourt was previously chief economist at Austrade. As a trade specialist at UNSW he has studied the international trade landscape for many years, and can comment on all parts of the TPP.

For further comment call Tim Harcourt on 02 9385 3816, 0408 485 479, or email