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Cautious response from exporters after China lifts ban on Australian timber

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“Chinese Customs have formally notified the Australian Minister of Agriculture that China will resume import of Australian timbers.” Chinese Ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian
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“… we thank them for their efforts helping to resolve the quarantine issues that China faced importing logs from Australia.” Australian Forest Products Association chief executive Joel Fitzgibbon
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“… people are a little bit gun shy — there’s a few battle scars from that sudden announcement (in 2020) and there was a huge disruption to businesses and people’s lives.” Tasmanian Forest Products Association chairman Bryan Hayes



Cautious response from exporters after China lifts ban on Australian timber
19/4/2023
(See translation in Arabic section)
Sydney - Middle East Times Int’l: China’s ambassador to Canberra has confirmed his country will lift its ban on Australian timber imports, in another sign trade ties with Australia are slowly returning to normal.
Since 2020, Australia’s $1.6 billion annual timber trade with China has been suspended with Beijing over quarantine risks.
Ambassador Xiao Qian told reporters in Canberra that the import ban was lifted 24 hours previously.
“Chinese Customs have formally notified the Australian Minister of Agriculture that China will resume import of Australian timbers,” he said.
“That is a conclusion (come to) after a serious study based on the materials provided by the Australian side.”
He said that was related the quarantine of timbers and they ”satisfied the conditions of the Chinese Customs”. 
The restoration of timber imports comes a month after Australia had agreed to suspend its appeal to the World Trade Organisation over Chinese government tariffs on Australian barley. 
While Mr Xiao maintained that China’s ban was a purely regulatory measure, Australian officials say it was clearly part of a broader campaign of economic punishment orchestrated by Beijing in 2020 when the relationship was mired in acrimony.
The ambassador also linked trade blocks to the broader political relationship during his press conference, saying that “as we improve our relationship the people in China have more and more favourable attitudes towards Australia, and equally to Australian products”.
INDUSTRY REACTION
Australian Forest Products Association (AFPA) chief executive Joel Fitzgibbon said the industry was pleased by the news.
“When the ban came into effect more than two years ago it caused a great deal of upheaval and uncertainty for many timber exporters and the broader forest sector, and this resolution is welcomed,” he said.
“AFPA and log exporters have worked closely with the Albanese government, especially Trade Minister Don Farrell, and the former government on this issue, and we thank them for their efforts helping to resolve the quarantine issues that China faced importing logs from Australia.”
Chairman of the Tasmanian Forest Products Association, Bryan Hayes, said the ambassador’s announcement sounded like a positive development “at first blush”. 
“I guess we’ll wait to see the details because it’s one thing to hear a political announcement, it’s another to see what actually transpires on the ground in a commercial sense,” Mr Hayes said.
Mr Hayes was the chief executive of log exporter Forico at the time of the trade ban and he said 100 people lost their jobs.
While some sawn timber was still able to get to Chinese markets, whole round log exports were banned.
“I would hope that those jobs come back and the people are able to resume, but people are a little bit gun shy — there’s a few battle scars from that sudden announcement (in 2020) and there was a huge disruption to businesses and people’s lives,” he said.
Mr Hayes added that it would be an expensive, and risky, process for some companies to re-engage with China.
“I know a number of them found alternative markets and even onshore processing, because, ideally, we’d like to be doing more onshore processing and manufacturing here in Australia rather than exporting raw materials across to value add somewhere else,” he said. 
Karen Stephens, president of Timber Towns Victoria, said there would be “lots of celebrations” and some caution. 
“The timber industry was reliant on the huge contracts with China to supply timber but the import ban did make the (industry) rethink,” she said. 
“So they have found new markets. So it could be a very interesting playing field now for China,” she said.
BEIJING VISIT
Last week, Trade Minister Don Farrell made a two-day trip to China, where he and his Chinese counterpart, Commerce Minister Wang Wentao, agreed to step up dialogue on a long-running trade dispute between the two nations.
Mr Farrell returned from that trip without securing a major breakthrough, but both sides agreed to continue discussions around thawing the diplomatic rift.
In a statement after Mr Xiao’s announcement today, Mr Farrell said it was a “great outcome for the Australian forestry sector”.
“Australian timber was one of the outstanding trade impediments discussed with my counterpart in Beijing last week,” he said.
“Any step towards resolving the trade impediments is welcome.
“We look forward the full resumption of trade for all affected products as soon as possible.”
Trade tensions with China impacted not just the Australian timber and barley industries but also wine, lobster, coal and cattle.
Mr Farrell also raised the issue of the ongoing detention of Australian citizens Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun during the ministerial talks, asking for them to be released as soon as possible.
Australian officials hope the easing trade blockages will help them inject more stability into the relationship, while recognising both countries will still have deep differences across a whole range of strategic and economic issues.



 














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