Leaders beef up China-Australia free trade

China’s growing middle class has an insatiable appetite for Australian beef, and now an extra 36 Australian meat exporters will be granted special access to put steaks on hot plates.


Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and China’s second most powerful leader Li Keqiang sealed a deal during their bilateral meeting on Friday, expanding chilled meat market access from 11 firms to all eligible Australian exporters.

The Chinese premier also denied his country was militarising the South China Sea, insisting defence equipment on artificial islands was in place to help maintain freedom of navigation.

The meat announcement is part of a new phase of the year-old China-Australia free trade deal.

“Australia is the only country in the world with this market access,” Mr Turnbull said, adding Australian beef exports to China are already worth $600 million a year.

“This new agreement will drive significant future growth.”

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said Australia will also be selling donkey meat and edible skins into China. He’s pushing to export kangaroo meat too.

“What we are providing is food for a more affluent society,” Mr Joyce said, adding fillet steak would always be preferred over cow udder.

“Once people start making a buck and they eat fillet steak they want to eat it again and again and again.”

China and Australia are set to establish a high-level security dialogue which will cover cybersecurity, trans-national crime and legal and judicial cooperation.

The leaders had been expected to discuss the legal fate of the 14 Crown employees arrested and detained for five months without charge.

China has been anxious for progress on an extradition treaty, which is facing parliamentary delays in Australia, in order to bolster its efforts to crack down on corrupt officials who have fled the country.

On hot-button strategic issues, Mr Li and Mr Turnbull discussed the ongoing nuclear threat posed by North Korea.

The prime minister praised China’s decision to freeze North Korean coal imports in line with United Nations Security Council resolutions.

“The only thing that can tip our boat upside down is if North Korea goes crazy and then it all goes to poo very quickly, but if we have peace the whole show gets ahead,” Mr Joyce said at a separate press conference.

Asked about the South China Sea maritime dispute, Mr Li played down his country’s “so-called” military build-up on artificial islands.

“With respect to the so-called militarisation, China never has any intention to engage in militarisation in the South China Sea,” Mr Li told reporters in Canberra through an interpreter.

“China’s facilities on Chinese islands and reefs are primarily for civilian purposes, and even if there is a certain amount of defence equipment of facilities, (it) is for maintaining the freedom of navigation and overflight.”

China would “bear the brunt” if shipping routes were disrupted because it was the largest global trader.

Mr Li noted in the past year up to 100,000 commercial ships sailed in the sea lanes of the South China Sea.

China has copped international criticism for its reclamation activities in the disputed territory amid reports it has installed weapons on all seven of its artificial islands.

China claims most of the South China Sea, while Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei claim parts of the waters.


* A commercial deal – worth $6 billion – between BBI Group and China State Construction Engineering Corporation to develop the Balla Balla mine, railway and iron ore export facility in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

* A new Australian consulate in Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning province in 2018.

* The free trade deal’s chapter on services and investment is up for review.

* A ramp-up of quarantine and inspection cooperation.

* Ministerial level talks on energy and an innovation dialogue.

* Vocational education and training cooperation.

* Cultural exchanges in the arts.

* Business roundtable meetings.