Australia Hopes the Asia-Pacific Commerce Deal Will Improve Relations with China: Report

© Reuters. Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham gestures during a signing ceremony with the Indonesian Minister of Commerce in Jakarta

From Lidia Kelly

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia hopes an ambitious trade deal, due to be signed on Sunday between 15 Asia-Pacific economies, will help improve the country's tense relationship with China, said Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.

The China-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement to be signed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) could become the world's largest free trade agreement.

The agreement, which covers almost a third of the world's population and around 30% of global gross domestic product, will gradually lower tariffs and aim to counter protectionism, stimulate investment and allow goods to move more freely in the region.

Australia's relations with China, its largest trading partner, were shaken after Canberra called for an international investigation into the source of the novel coronavirus that broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Trade disputes have hit a dozen Australian industries, threatening billions of dollars' worth of exports of agricultural products, timber and resources to China.

The ASEAN Pact provides a platform that can lead to positive change in relationships, Birmingham said.

"The ball is very much in China's court to come to the table for this dialogue," Birmingham told The Age newspaper before the ASEAN talks concluded.

"It is vital that partners like China not only adhere to the details of such agreements but also remain true to their spirit when entering into new agreements like this."

When asked whether China has imposed restrictions on several Australian imports, State Department spokesman Wang Wenbin said the measures China is taking are "legitimate, reasonable and unprovoked."

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