Australia’s bitter trade dispute with China has hit a new low with festering fights over barley and coal further souring bilateral relations.
The World Trade Organisation will become involved for the first time when Trade Minister Simon Birmingham elevates barley tariffs to the global umpire.
China has accused Australia of playing the victim amid ongoing speculation coal is the latest commodity embroiled in the stoush through a ban on the valuable export.
Senator Birmingham indicated the government was still willing to engage in a partnership with China and restart dialogue.
“But none of that comes with the selling out of our values. None of that comes with Australia compromising in relation to our national security objectives,” he told reporters in Canberra.
There has been no formal notification of the coal ban, but a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry did not deny it was in place.
He said everything China did was legal, responsible and in the best interests of its consumers and companies.
The WTO will scrutinise Beijing’s 80.5 per cent tariff on Australian barley, which China claims has breached its anti-dumping laws.
China has slapped a series of trade bans and tariffs on Australian goods as diplomatic tensions simmer over foreign interference and investment laws and calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of coronavirus.
Senator Birmingham said the decisions appeared to be sanctions against Australia, which could threaten other nations’ willingness to trade with China.
“Obviously that changes that risk proposition for Australian businesses and industries as they choose to consider doing business with China,” he said.
“It also has a knock-on effect in relation to others around the world.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the coal ban would be a lose-lose for both countries and a clear breach of WTO rules, as well as a China-Australia free trade agreement.
“That is very serious for Australia but it is actually bigger than that,” he told the Seven Network.
Mr Morrison emphasised it would force China to buy dirtier coal from other countries, putting its climate change ambitions at risk.
He stressed that Japan and India took more Australian coal than China, with other key markets including South Korea also available to exporters.
The prime minister again called for leader-to-leader and ministerial-level dialogue with China to resolve the trade and diplomatic disputes.
“We’ve always been open for that mature conversation.”
Resources Minister Keith Pitt said Australia expected all its trading partners to play by the rules.
“We expect all of our exporters to have a level playing field, be treated fairly and that is what we are looking for,” he told the ABC.