The ball is in China’s court, Australia says before the trade deal

Australia’s Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said Australia hopes the signing of an ambitious trade deal on Sunday among 15 economies in the Asia-Pacific region will help improve the country’s strained relations with China.

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

Covering nearly a third of the world’s population and about 30% of global GDP, the deal will gradually reduce tariffs and aim to counter protectionism, boost investment and allow free movement of goods within the region.

Australia’s relations with China, its largest trading partner, have been strained after Canberra called for an international investigation into the source of the new Corona virus, which broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Trade disputes have hit dozens of Australian industries and threatened exports to China of agricultural products, timber and billions of dollars in resources.

Birmingham said the ASEAN agreement provides a platform that could lead to positive change in relations.

“The ball is largely in China’s court to come to the table for this dialogue,” Birmingham told The Age newspaper before the conclusion of the ASEAN talks.

“It is very important that partners like China, when entering into new agreements like this one, not only provide details of these agreements, but act according to their spirit.”

Asked earlier this month whether China had imposed restrictions on many Australian imports, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the measures taken by China were “legitimate, reasonable and impeccable.”

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