Lobsters may be victim of China trade spat

Daniel McCulloch
·2-min read

Lobsters appear to be the latest victims of escalating trade tensions between Australia and China.

Tonnes of live Australian rock lobsters have been left on the tarmac at a Chinese airport due to customs clearance delays.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is working with exporters to understand what is going on.

"We are aware of reports of customs clearance issues related to premium shellfish imports into China and are working closely with the industry to secure clarity on this matter," he told AAP on Monday.

"So far as any industry concerns imply a breach of World Trade Organisation or China-Australia Free Trade Agreement commitments, Chinese authorities should rule out the use of any such discriminatory actions."

Senator Birmingham urged people not to jump to conclusions about the delays.

He said the issues should be able to be easily rectified with the cooperation of Chinese authorities.

Most Australian exporters have stopped sending lobster shipments to China because of the risk of delays.

"Whilst some cargo has been cleared, there are continued risks of delays while new processes are being implemented," the Seafood Trade Advisory Group said in a statement.

"To mitigate this risk a decision has been made by the majority of exporters to stop sending shipments to China until more is known about the new process."

Chinese customs officials are believed to be testing the lobsters for trace elements of minerals and metals.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the shellfish were screened before shipping, so there was no need for the inspections.

"Australia has been singled out on this, there has been no other nation that is exporting rock lobster into China that has been asked to do this," he said.

Mr Littleproud warned the issue could take some time to resolve.

"We have serious concerns about this and we'll ask serious questions of Chinese officials," he said.

"We've become aware of this in the last couple of days in my department and our officials in Beijing have been working to get clarification."

Labor is calling on the government to do all it can to address the trade issues with China.

The opposition is also concerned Senator Birmingham has recently taken on the role of finance minister, saying he won't be able to give the trade tensions his full focus.

China has launched trade strikes against Australian beef, barley and wine in recent months.

Australian cotton and coal also appear to have been dragged into the trade dispute.

Mr Littleproud has attempted to discuss the ongoing trade issues with his Chinese counterpart, but his telephone calls have not been returned.