May 17, 2018 / 6:58 AM / 7 months ago

Australia trade minister says 'mobilised' on Treasury Wine issue

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Australia’s trade minister, on a visit to Shanghai, said on Thursday he was “mobilised” to tackle customs delays facing Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates Ltd (TWE.AX) in China, amid a recent souring in diplomatic relations.

Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Steven Ciobo, attends a news conference of an Australian Football League event in Shanghai, China May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

Starting a three-day visit, Steve Ciobo said a diplomatic team had been set up to sort out the customs issues that have hit the world’s biggest listed winemaker and that trade ties between Australia and China remained strong. “I’m mobilised, my office is mobilised, the Australian diplomatic mission here is mobilised and we will work out precisely what the situation is and if we can get to the bottom of it,” Ciobo told reporters.

Treasury Wine said it was facing delays getting some products through Chinese customs, sending its shares tumbling amid fears it may be affected by the dispute between the trade partners.

Australia’s rift with China is unfolding against the backdrop of a much larger trade dispute between Beijing and Washington that has fanned worries of a full-blown trade war that could weigh on the global economy.

The United States and China resume trade talks on Thursday over tens of billions of dollars in tit-for-tat tariffs.

Ciobo’s visit to China, the first in more than half a year by an Australian minister, is a bid to mend ties tested in the wake of Australian concerns about growing Chinese political influence.

“The relationship between Australia and China is a strong relationship. Our trade and investment ties are broad,” said Ciobo, adding that the ties had boosted prosperity for both.

China bought A$93 billion (51.6 billion pounds) of Australian goods and services in 2017, underpinning corporate heavyweights such as miners Rio Tinto (RIO.L)(RIO.AX) and BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) and the agri-food industry.

Trade, however, is just one aspect of a delicate balancing act for Australia. Its security ties with the United States have limited how close it can get to China, analysts say.

Relations began to sour in November when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proposed to register lobbyists working for foreign countries, citing “disturbing reports about Chinese influence”. Legislation is set to go to parliament in weeks.

In April, the Australian Financial Review said China had denied visas to Australian government officials to attend Australia Week, jeopardizing the biennial event and sparking fears the row could escalate and further threaten ties.

Reporting by John Ruwitch; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Clarence Fernandes

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