China blocks Australian beef exports

Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

Hundreds of millions of dollars in Australian beef exports are at stake after China raised concerns about the labelling of some recent shipments.

It is understood six processors have been caught up in the temporary ban.

Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said he had received a letter from China's quarantine agency raising concerns.

It is understood the concerns relate to labels on some boxes of exported beef that do not match the labels on the packets inside.

Some of the beef has landed in China but more is on its way.

"This is a very significant and substantial export trade with China with potentially tens of millions and possibly hundreds of millions of dollars in trade affected," Mr Ciobo told AAP on Wednesday.

"We are taking the matter very seriously. I have been engaging today and will continue to engage with Chinese authorities and the Australian embassy to try to resolve this matter as efficiently as possible."

Mr Ciobo has spoken with nearly all of the chief executives of the impacted companies, indicating the government was "very mobilised" in attempting to resolve the matter.

The issue only came to the attention of the government in the past 24 hours.

"I feel for the facility owners and workers," Mr Ciobo said.

The Weekly Times reported China's concerns may be related to recent comments by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on China's military ambitions.

But Ms Bishop said Chinese officials had not raised any concerns with her or DFAT in relation to any of her recent statements.

"Australia's position on the South China Sea has been consistent over a number of years," she told AAP.

Defence Minister Marise Payne also sought to quash the South China Sea theory, saying the temporary ban centred on concerns over labelling compliance.

"It has nothing to do with health or food safety concerns, nothing to do with matters of international diplomacy, but is actually about labelling of meat from particular plants," Senator Payne told ABC radio.

"I think it would be engaging in rather an extreme stretch of the imagination to presume it was linked to anything else."