Australia’s trade beef with China heats up

Western Australia fears it could become the meat in the sandwich as trade and diplomatic tensions with China escalate.

And the Queensland premier is writing to the federal trade minister to remind him of China’s importance to her state.

Annastacia Palaszczuk said the trade tangle was putting thousands of jobs at risk.

Australian relations with China have been heavily strained since Scott Morrison began pushing for a global inquiry into coronavirus.

Beijing’s ambassador warned China could boycott Australian produce if the prime minister persisted.

China has since blacklisted four Australian abattoirs and threatened to slap an 80 per cent tariff on barley imports.

Eighteen per cent of Australia’s beef production is shipped to China, with exports worth more than $3 billion a year.

The four meatworks involved – JBS Dinmore, JBS Beef City, Kilcoy and Northern Cooperative Meat Company – account for roughly 35 per cent of Australian beef exports.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said customs officers had detected repeated violations of inspection and quarantine requirements by a few Australian beef export companies.

“China has decided to suspend, effective immediately, processing four Australian companies’ import declarations for meat products,” he said.

“The Chinese side has asked the Australian side to conduct a thorough investigation to find the cause and address the issue.”

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says it is concerning the suspensions appear to be based on highly technical issues, with some dating back more than a year.

“It’s disappointing that no notification was given prior to that suspension taking effect,” he said.

Nationals senator Matt Canavan said the issue appeared to be about labelling stickers being the wrong way around and noted the Kilcoy abattoir was Chinese-owned.

“We shouldn’t jump to conclusions but it does underscore the need for us to diversify our trade relationships,” he told Nine.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann insisted the trade issues were not linked to the push for a coronavirus inquiry.

“These are things that you would not even pick up on if we were not in this current climate,” he told ABC radio.

China has argued the origin and transmission of the coronavirus needs to be assessed by medical professionals.

“Political manoeuvres under the context of the pandemic will only disrupt international anti-virus co-operation and won’t gain any support,” Mr Zhao said.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the beef suspension was a lesson for exporters about meeting other countries’ import standards.

National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson said disruptions to exports were concerning.

“We recognise in relationships as significant as that between Australia and China, from time to time, issues do arise,” she said.

“When they do, it is important that both parties work together in a respectful manner to, as soon as possible, resolve the challenge to an end that is satisfactory to both.”

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