China to resume Australian timber imports, talks under way for PM visit

U.S. President Biden participates in a bilateral meeting with Australian PM Albanese, in San Diego

By Lewis Jackson

SYDNEY (Reuters) -China is set to resume imports of Australian timber from Thursday and talks are under way about a visit by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to Beijing, China's ambassador to Canberra said on Thursday.

The once A$600 million ($407 million) annual timber trade with China has been largely suspended since late 2020 after Beijing said it had found pests in shipments coming from several Australian ports.

Australia's centre-left Labor government is pushing for an end to a series of Chinese unofficial bans and tariffs placed on Australian products including coal, timber and lobster in 2020 during a nadir in diplomatic relations.

"Yesterday, the Chinese customs has formally notified the Australian minister of agriculture that starting from today China will resume import of Australian timbers," Ambassador Xiao Qian said.

Reuters reported in March discussions between Chinese customs and Australian agricultural officials over the resumption of trade.

The reopening of China to Australian timber comes days after Ausralian Trade Minister Don Farrell returned from a trip to Beijing. A visit by Foreign Minister Penny Wong in December was followed weeks later by the resumption of coal shipments.

Xiao said discussions about a visit by Albanese were underway and he hoped it would happen "as early as possible."

"The Chinese side, the Australian side we are keeping in touch with each other through diplomatic channels so we can find out the time that will be convenient for both sides," he said.

Xiao said he also expected more travel by officials between both countries in the second half of the year, including Australian state premiers, the leader of Sichuan province and a senior leader from Shanghai.

($1 = 1.4743 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Lewis Jackson in Sydney; Editing by Alasdair Pal and Stephen Coates)