Australia’s largest-ever private trade delegation to China arrived in Shanghai on Sunday, just over a week after 18 employees of Australian gaming giant Crown Resorts Ltd were detained there for alleged gambling crimes.
More than 200 delegates, including Queensland state ministers, agricultural producers and exporters joined the week-long visit aimed at building on the A$160 billion (HK$945 billion) trade relationship between Australia and China.
“We have brought together businesses from banks to exporters and freight companies,” Ben Lyons, the group’s leader, said in a statement.
The 18 employees of Crown Resorts, Australia’s top casino operator, including three Australians, have been held by Chinese authorities since last weekend.
As of Sunday, no charges had been laid, but the arrests have raised fears of a wider crackdown.
Among the high profile members of the “AccessChina” delegation are Qantas Airways and the agribusiness units of both National Australia Bank (NAB) and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ).
Qantas Freight, which is looking to expand capacity in Asia, is hosting a networking dinner that Lyons said would help “educate the Shanghai business community on our regional capability when combined with an international freight provider”.
The group left from Wellcamp Airport, a new A$200 million privately built air freight facility at Toowoomba, 125km from the Queensland capital Brisbane, which will begin weekly freight-only flights next month. Cathay Pacific will operate the service from Wellcamp and Hong Kong.
Australia has been pushing to become the “delicatessen of Asia”, tapping its favourable climate to send crates of produce such as figs and edible flowers to store shelves across the increasingly affluent region.
But finding space on flights has proven a headache for some Australian producers, who say freight export capabilities are not keeping up with growing demand for products from Asia’s middle class.
Industries represented on the AccessChina trip include health, aged care, agriculture, education, manufacturing and tourism.
Delegates will tour sites including the Hangzhou headquarters of Alibaba Group (which owns the South China Morning Post), Yangshan Deepwater Port, Baosteel and Shanghai Electric.