China-Australia relations worsen with $6 billion worth of imports under threat

Exporters are being urged to “spread their risk” in case China officially suspends imports of various Australian products.

Chinese authorities are reportedly planning to halt imports of Australian wine, lobsters, sugar, coal, copper, barley and timber.

News that China is blocking the products, collectively worth around $6 billion, came from state-run newspaper The Global Times.

Another state media outlet, the China Daily, warned Australia would “pay tremendously” if it continued antagonising China.

“China is Australia’s largest trade partner and all of the investigations so far only cover a small part of the imports from Australia,” its editorial said.

A staff member wearing a face mask stands near a display of Australian wines at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020.
A staff member wearing a face mask stands near a display of Australian wines at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. Credit: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

“If Canberra continues to go out of its way to be inimical to China, its choosing sides will be a decision Australia will come to regret as its economy will only suffer further pain.”

Individual sectors have been informally advised of the trade strikes but there has been no formal announcement from the Chinese government.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud is seeking clarification from Beijing.

In the meantime, he is encouraging exporters to consider sending goods to other markets.

Australian Agriculture Minister David Littleproud speaks to the media.
Australian Agriculture Minister David Littleproud speaks to the media. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

“We are saying to our exporters, you should spread your risk,” Mr Littleproud told 4BC radio.

The minister also had a warning for China.

“If you want to play by the rules, everyone will play nicely,” he said.

“But if you don’t, then obviously there’s a greater risk, even for our exporters, and they need to take that into account if they’re going to send product there, and they may ask for a higher price for that commodity.”

Lobster imports could be under threat.
Lobster imports could be under threat. Credit: James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Labor accused the Morrison government of failing to deliver leadership, arguing hardworking Australians were paying the price.

Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles described the diplomatic relationship as completely hopeless.

“It is no good to point over at China or indeed any other country and say it’s not our fault,” he said.

A file photo of Richard Marles
Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles says the government is to blame for the China situation. Credit: AAP

“We’re seven years down the path of this government and there’s not a single personal relationship of substance that exists between anybody in this government and anyone in the Chinese government.”

Mr Marles said Australian workers with jobs on the line were looking to government for answers and action.

“There are obviously difficulties and complexities in the relationship with China, which is exactly why you need personal relationships to add balance to the situation,” he said.

“But right now, they can’t speak to a single person in China.”

Tensions are growing between China and Australia over trade.
Tensions are growing between China and Australia over trade. Credit: Sam Aitken/7NEWS Digital

‘Cheap talk of opposition’

Mr Dutton rejected the criticism as “the cheap talk of opposition”.

“The cheap seats in opposition can fire all these shots but the reality is China is a sovereign state, it makes decisions,” he said.

“Shouting out across the television screen at China is not going to work.

“We’ll work with them behind the scenes and we’ll continue that discussion.”

Ministers’ caution

Senior ministers have cautioned against concluding the trade strikes are in response to positions Australia has taken in relation to China.

Diplomatic relations are heavily strained due to disputes over coronavirus, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

Labor argues if any country, including China, unreasonably blocks Australian exports the government must call them out.

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