China Lifts Punishing Tariffs on Australian Wine

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Despite its thirst for Australian wine, China had taxed the imports in 2020 over a dispute about Covid-19.

In a sign of easing tensions between Australia and China, China said Thursday it will lift the tariffs it placed on Australian wine more than three years ago.

The tariffs, which were first imposed in 2020 amid a nasty diplomatic spat between Australia and China, had all but vaporized the country’s biggest overseas market, worth 1.2 billion Australian dollars or around $800 million at its peak. Australian winemakers faced desperate hardship and were stuck with a surfeit of big-bodied red wines.

The decision to lift the tariffs was announced by China’s Ministry of Commerce.

In a statement, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he welcomed the decision, and that the outcome came “at a critical time for the Australian wine industry.” He added: “We will continue to press for all remaining trade impediments affecting Australian exports to be removed.”

As of last August, Australia had the equivalent of 859 Olympic swimming pools of wine in storage, according to a report from Rabo Bank. “That’s going to take some time to be depleted,” said Lee McLean, the chief executive of Australian Grape & Wine Inc. “And China is not going to solve that on its own.”

The price of red grapes has barely covered their production costs, prompting some growers to simply let them wither on the vine, while others accepted contracts well below the cost of production, Mr. McLean said.

The development comes after months of moves toward rapprochement between the two nations, starting with a change in the Australian government. That has led to meetings between foreign ministers, the release in October of a detained Australian journalist and, in November, the first visit by an Australian premier to Beijing since 2016.

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