AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Premier Li Keqiang’s visits to Australia and New Zealand have boosted economic relations with the two countries while sending a strong response to widespread protectionism.
The trip, which was wrapped up on March 29, coincided with the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the two countries.
This is also the first visit to either country by a Chinese premier in 11 years.
STRONG RESPONSE TO PROTECTIONISM
Amid the rising tide of protectionism and anti-globalization, especially among some major developed economies, Premier Li’s visits to Australia and New Zealand, both advocates and long-time beneficiaries of economic globalization, took on new significance.
The new trend is a grave concern for Australia. Christine Holgate, CEO of Australian vitamin maker Blackmores, told Xinhua that she was worried about the anti-globalization trend.
However, Holgate felt “inspired” by Premier Li’s remarks about free trade and China-Australia economic ties.
“First, I have come for free trade. The world is seeing a rising tide of trade protectionism and growing backlash against globalization,” Premier Li said at a luncheon hosted by his Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, in the Australian capital of Canberra.
“We are ready to enhance relevant cooperation with Australia and demonstrate to the region and the world our determination to uphold trade liberalization and economic globalization,” Premier Li added.
At the China-Australia Economy and Trade Cooperation Forum on March 24, Premier Li and Turnbull agreed to promote trade facilitation and liberalization.
Echoing Premier Li, Turnbull said at the forum that protectionism is “not a ladder to get out of the low-growth trap,” but “a shovel to dig it deeper.”
Free trade was also highlighted during Premier Li’s visit to New Zealand, where he hailed economic globalization, represented by trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, as a major driving force for rapid world economic development.
The development processes of both China and New Zealand show that only through openness and inclusiveness can a country prosper, Premier Li told more than 500 people from local political, business and academic circles at a welcoming luncheon on March 28 in Auckland.
China is willing to work with New Zealand and other countries to build a community of shared future for mankind and improve global economic governance so as to let more countries and people benefit from globalization, said Premier Li.
Stressing the importance of the authority and effectiveness of multilateral trade system, the Premier urged the two countries to promote the setup of open and transparent regional free trade arrangements.
While stating that China will steadfastly expand opening-up, and open its doors wider, Premier Li said China takes an open attitude toward any free trade arrangement that would promote regional economic integration.
CHEERING NEWS TO AUSTRALIAN BUSINESSES
From Canberra to Sydney, from meetings to forums, Premier Li’s reassuring note about China’s staunch commitment to free trade and strengthened bilateral economic ties is cheering news to Australian businesses.
China has been Australia’s largest trading partner for the past eight years. It is a loyal buyer of Australian goods, from iron ore to wine. China exports clothing, telecom equipment and parts to Australia.
The trade structure has put China in a trade deficit with Australia for years. Last year, bilateral trade reached $107.8 billion, with a deficit of more than $30 billion for China.
“We ran a trade deficit of tens of billions of US dollars against Australia last year. Of course, we don’t like trade imbalances. Yet, we believe the solution to trade imbalances lies in further expanding our trade, rather than closing our doors,” Premier Li said at the luncheon in Canberra.
Jennifer Westacott, CEO of Business Council of Australia, was at the luncheon. “The two countries have reaffirmed the importance of free trade and open market, and the importance of not retreating into isolationism,” she told Xinhua.
Blackmores saw its business in China surge from scratch five years ago to a volume accounting for 40 percent of its total business in 2016. Its CEO Holgate attributed the growth to booming economic ties between the two countries and expected an even stronger growth following Premier Li’s visit.
“We are not a self-sufficient country, and a booming economic relationship with China is vital for us. If we lose that, moms and dads will lose their jobs, and factories will collapse,” said Holgate.
To further bilateral economic ties and bring about more benefits to the two peoples, the two sides agreed to continue to implement the China-Australia free trade agreement (FTA) and work hard to usher in a new era of FTA-driven boom.
The two countries will also enhance synergy between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Vision for Developing North Australia, and between their innovation strategies, said an outcome list of Premier Li’s visit.
Cooperation in energy, resources, infrastructure, agriculture, animal husbandry, and scientific and technological innovation would also expand after the visit, according to the list.
In the agricultural area, they signed the Plan of Action (2017-2019) on Implementing Agricultural Cooperation Projects Between the Ministry of Agriculture of China and the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
On science and technology cooperation, they agreed to continue the collaboration under the China-Australia Science and Research Fund in prioritized areas of advanced manufacturing, medical technology and pharmaceuticals, and resources and energy, with a budget of up to $6 million from each side.
CARRYING FORWARD “SPECIAL” RELATIONS WITH NEW ZEALAND
During the visit to New Zealand, both Premier Li and his New Zealand counterpart, Bill English, stressed the need to carry forward the “special” relations between the two countries.
New Zealand has been leading among developed countries in developing relations with China, and has created many “firsts,” Premier Li said at the welcoming luncheon in Auckland on March 28.
New Zealand was among the first countries to acknowledge China’s full market economy status, and it was the first developed country that concluded a bilateral free trade agreement with China, among others.
During Premier Li’s visit, the two countries signed a ground-breaking memorandum of understanding on the Belt and Road Initiative, the first such document China has inked with a developed Western country.
The many “firsts” demonstrate that China-New Zealand relations are pioneering, special and exemplary, and have brought tangible benefits to the two countries, Premier Li said.
Bilateral friendship shows that all countries can seek common ground while reserving differences, and become good friends and partners as long as they respect each other, treat each other as equals, and believe the development of the other side is an opportunity rather than a challenge, he said.
For his part, English said New Zealand is willing to continue to develop the special relations between the two countries and make unremitting efforts for the two countries’ future.
The booming Chinese economy provides major opportunities for New Zealand, and both peoples benefit from the development of bilateral relations, English said.
Another major move taken by the two countries during the visit is the decision to start talks in late April on upgrading a bilateral FTA that took effect in 2008. For four years in a row, China has been New Zealand’s largest trading partner.
At a joint news conference after talks with English on March 27, Premier Li said upgrading the FTA will promote the development of bilateral economic and trade ties and better benefit the two peoples.
Negotiations will touch on investment, service trade, quarantine of animals and plants, the principle of origin, economy and technology, e-commerce, and competition policies, according to Chinese Ambassador to New Zealand Wang Lutong.
During the visit, China and New Zealand also signed a series of cooperation documents, including an action plan for cooperation on climate change, and new access for New Zealand chilled beef and meat to the Chinese market.