‘Deeply troubling’: Trade Minister on China-Australia dispute

By Samuel Squire

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham said reports from industry and media about ongoing issues surrounding Australian trade with China are “deeply troubling”.

Speaking during an interview on Adelaide radio’s 5AA, Minister Birmingham said there has been “a lot of inconsistency” in what is being seen and heard.

“Chinese official government statements [have been] denying any coordinated effort being taken against Australia, they deny any discriminatory actions that are being taken. But that doesn’t seem to be what industry is seeing and hearing at present,” he said.

Minister Birmingham revealed that industry had heard rumours “that buyers are being told not to purchase Australian goods”, but added that “China denies such actions have taken place”.

“Some of the other issues that we’re facing are a little trickier in terms of the fact that there’s an opaqueness to some of the issues that are being raised,” he said.

“The industry claims that [Chinese] buyers are being told not to purchase Australian goods, and, you know, that sort of coercive action by another country in interfering in the private arrangement between businesses would be another level of concern and that’s why we pleasingly note that China denies such actions have taken place.

“Ultimately, if China goes down the path with the wine industry, as they have with our barley industry, of applying dumping duties or anti-dumping duties, and claiming falsely that there are extensive subsidies in those sectors, then yes, we can proceed through to the World Trade Organisation with a dispute.”

The minister says he believes it may be possible to avoid disruptions to Australian exports.

“If there are no such discriminatory actions in place, then we should be able to resolve the issues that some of our seafood producers have found in terms of the clearance through customs, which should not see a disruption to our wine exports to China. So we hope that the Chinese government is true to its word and that these issues can be resolved, but there’s no denying the fact that the range and extent of concerns that industry are hearing is deeply troubling.

“We as a government have sought to open as many doors as we possibly can for Australian businesses, and that’s why we’ve done trade deals not just with China over the last seven years, but also Japan, Korea, Indonesia, through the trans-Pacific partnership with Vietnam, Canada, Mexico – why we’re pursuing agreements with the EU and the UK and have a comprehensive economic strategy for our engagement with India.”

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