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Australia’s exports to China hit record high as relations thaw

<i>Yan Yan/Xinhua/Getty Images/File</i><br/>Chinese President Xi Jinping
Xinhua News Agency via Getty Ima
Yan Yan/Xinhua/Getty Images/File
Chinese President Xi Jinping

By Laura He, CNN

Australia’s exports to China hit a record high in March, as Chinese buyers snapped up Australian commodities from coal to iron ore amid a thaw in bilateral relations.

The country’s shipments to China reached 19 billion Australian dollars ($12.8 billion) in March, up 28% from the previous month and 31% from the same period a year ago, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday.

The monthly number is the highest since records began in 1988.

In particular, thermal coal exports to China surged 122% in March from a year earlier to $238 million. Shipments of iron ore lump and iron ore fines to China also jumped 28% and 22.5%, respectively, to $380 million and $973 million.

The increased trade comes as relations between Beijing and Canberra have eased following more than two years of a deep freeze.

In early 2020, then-Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent investigation into the origins of Covid-19 — first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan — which threatened to challenge Beijing’s narrative of the outbreak.

The Chinese government said Morrison’s request was “political manipulation,” and since then imposed a series of trade restrictions on Australian products, including barley, lobsters and coal.

But the frosty relationship has shown signs of thawing since last year when the Labor party swept to power in Australia. Earlier this year, Beijing removed all remaining curbs on Australian coal imports, ending an unofficial ban.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner, accounting for nearly one third of its overseas trade, according to the Australian government.

Australia is among China’s largest supplier of commodities. It accounted for more than one fifth of China’s thermal coal imports before the trade restrictions were imposed.

For iron ore, it remained the largest supplier for China even when relations soured. In 2022, China bought 1.1 billion tonnes of iron ore, 65% of which were from Australia.

For Beijing, commodities from Australia are important for its efforts to revive the pandemic-hit economy. Iron ore, for example, is a vital component of its steel industry. With China embarking on an infrastructure spending spree to help the economy recover from the pandemic, Beijing’s need for it has never been greater.

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