CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Australia's prime minister said Thursday that the country can't take its trading relationship with China for granted in an increasingly competitive world economy as she prepared to lead a senior government delegation to Australia's biggest export market.
Julia Gillard said she would on Friday lead "the most senior Australian political delegation ever to visit China" only weeks after China's new President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang took office. Her delegation includes Foreign Minister Bob Carr, Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Financial Services Minister Bill Shorten.
"The timing of this visit so soon after the new leadership has entered office is deliberate and reflects the importance of our rapidly evolving relationship with China and our high-level political oversight of that relationship," Gillard told a Foreign Correspondents Association lunch in Sydney.
She said Australia's position as an "energy superpower" would be discussed with Chinese leaders while she is in China. Australia is a major supplier of coal and liquid national gas to power Chinese industry. Raw materials account for a large part of the two-way trade between the nations which last year totaled 128 billion Australian dollars ($134 billion).
"The amount of competition in the energy sector is getting stronger and stronger and more and more acute," Gillard said.
Gillard said technological innovation had revolutionized Australia's mining industry and maintained its competitive edge.
"That is going to be the challenge for us. How to remain competitive in what is going to be, I think, an increasingly contested and crowded market place," she said.
Gillard declined to comment on newspaper reports that Australia will become only the third country after the United States and Japan to have a direct currency exchange with the yuan in an announcement to be made in Shanghai. Such a direct exchange would eliminate the need to convert to U.S. currency and reduce transaction costs for trade.
"We are going to have to wait until I'm in Shanghai" to see what is announced, she said.
Gillard said the high Australian dollar "may persist for some time" because of Australia's growing status among investors as a safe haven currency and Chinese industrial demand.
The delegation will begin its five-day China visit at the annual Boao Forum for Asia, a government and business leaders' summit on the southern Chinese island of Boao. It will also visit Beijing and Shanghai.
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- Julia Gillard