China strikes spread to timber and barley

Daniel McCulloch
·2-min read

Chinese trade strikes on Australian exports have spread to timber and barley, fuelling concerns about the increasingly perilous state of the diplomatic relationship.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has confirmed China has suspended exports of Australian logs from Queensland and barley from another grain producer.

The suspensions follow customs clearance delays for $2 million worth of live Australian rock lobsters stuck on a Chinese airport tarmac.

"Australia has strong regulatory controls that underpin the integrity and biosecurity of all products exported," Mr Littleproud told AAP.

"We will work with the Chinese authorities to investigate and resolve these issues."

China has launched trade action against Australian beef and wine in recent months, with coal and cotton exports also dragged into the dispute.

There are fears Australian sugar and copper exports could be the next casualties of deepening diplomatic tensions over coronavirus, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

Asked whether the Chinese government had instructed importers to stop buying Australian products, China's Foreign Ministry told Reuters on Tuesday: "Relevant companies reducing imports of relevant products from Australia are acting on their own initiative."

Australia's agriculture and trade ministers have been unable to contact their Chinese counterparts to discuss the trade headaches.

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan accused the federal government of putting key export markets at risk by engaging in megaphone diplomacy.

Mr McGowan said trade issues would be more easily resolved if the bilateral relationship was in good shape.

"We need to be pragmatic and realistic about our relationship, and we need to have a good trading relationship with China," he told 6PR radio.

Mr McGowan said Australia could still speak up about diplomatic concerns and send warships through the South China Sea.

"We can do all of that but let's just make sure that we don't engage in megaphone diplomacy," he said.

Australia's former ambassador to China Geoff Raby said the series of trade strikes showed how vulnerable exports were to pressure from Beijing.

Mr Raby said while many countries were facing difficulties in dealing with a "stronger, more powerful, more ugly" China throwing its weight around the world, Australia was an outlier in terms of how low the relationship had sunk.

"It looks bad, I think we are in the process of a tit-for-tat retaliation, and we are in a downward spiral," he told ABC radio.

"I think we need to find a circuit breaker and to find a way to put a floor under this."