Canberra appoints new trade minister amid tensions with Beijing

Sydney, Australia, Dec 18 (efe-epa).- Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced changes to his Cabinet on Friday, including the appointment of Dan Tehan as the new trade minister amid tensions with China.

Simon Birmingham, who this week raised a complaint with the World Trade Organization about Beijing’s imposition of tariffs on Australian barley, passes the baton to Tehan, who had until now been education minister.

Birmingham will focus on his Finance portfolio, which he has held since October.

“Dan brings strong credentials to this role as a former officer in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as well as a keen sense of the particular interests of regional Australia in an open, rules-based trading system,” a statement released by Morrison said.

Key portfolios remain unchanged, and the new appointments “reflect a strong focus on stability in key portfolios, together with a commitment to bring forward new talent as Australia continues its comeback from the COVID-19 crisis,” it said.

China is Australia’s major trading partner, with a bilateral exchange of AU$235 billion worth of goods in 2018-19, representing an increase of 20.5 percent compared to the previous year.

The countries signed a free trade agreement in 2015. But Beijing this year began raising tariffs on some Australian exports after bilateral diplomatic ties deteriorated.

Canberra accuses Beijing of violating its trade obligations by imposing tariffs on Australian products such as wine, barley and beef, although Beijing says that 95 percent of Australian products have zero tariffs.

The bilateral tensions worsened when Australia launched an investigation into the origin of Covid-19, believed to be in China, which angered Beijing.

Two years ago, Australia vetoed Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from concessions on their fifth-generation (5G) telecoms network for security reasons, and more recently passed laws to limit external influence, both economic and diplomatic, in the country, although it did not directly point the finger at China.

In the past, Beijing has criticized the interference of countries such as Australia in its policies in Xinjiang, where the persecuted Muslim Uighur minority lives, in Hong Kong and the disputed waters of the South China Sea. EFE-EPA


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