There are growing fears China will launch a third economic strike on Australia in response to Canberra’s backing of an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
China has suspended meat imports from at least four Australian abattoirs amid souring relations between the two nations.
The Kilcoy plant, Beef City in Toowoomba, the Dinmore meatworks in Brisbane and the Northern Co-operative Meat Company at Casino in NSW have been suspended by Australia’s largest trading partner.
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It comes after China’s Ministry of Commerce gave the nation’s barley producers 10 days to respond to an anti-dumping investigation that’s been conducted into Australian grain imports since 2010, threatening to slap them with tariffs of up to 80 per cent.
China has alleged that Australian farmers produced barley at a price lower than its “normal” level between 2014 and 2016, and is now considering two separate tariffs – a dumping margin of 73.6 per cent and a subsidy margin of 6.9 per cent on Australian barley exported to China.
The dairy industry called a snap meeting with the Federal Government yesterday afternoon over fears it could be targeted next, Nine newspapers reported.
“Any threat to export markets is of deep concern to an agricultural industry,” Dairy Connect chief executive Shaughn Morgan said.
“We call on the Federal Government to do all in its power to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
Speaking last night, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian said the trade strikes on abattoirs were due to quarantine and custom standards violations as opposed to the country’s fury with Canberra over a COVID-19 inquiry.
“As to the Australian-launched inquiry into the virus, as is known by all, the origin of the virus requires the assessment of specialists and scientists,” Mr Zhao said.
“Using the virus for political manoeuvre will only disrupt the epidemic co-operation. This will only be an unpopular move. China always believes that mutual respect and equality should be the basis for the development of bilateral relations,” he said.
“Mutual respect should be the basis of good relations.”
China’s threats have fuelled speculation Beijing is preparing a series of economic strikes on Australia in retaliation to the Morrison Government’s pursuit of an inquiry into COVID-19.
Australia is the only country in the world to have had two trade threats put against it since the pandemic started.
The Chinese government placed tariffs on alloy steel tubes imported from the United States and the European Union late last week.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham dismissed claims Australia and China are venturing into a trade war.
“Australia is not in any sort of war. Our intention’s to work as cooperatively as we can with our partners and across the world,” he said yesterday.
He said the meat industry is a “very important market for Australia”.
“But, I would emphasise, there are many other meat processing facilities that will continue under their approved permits to send product to China as they do, indeed, around the rest of the world,” he said. “But we will work as hard as we can with this industry, just as we are with the barley industry, to get the right outcome for them.”
The Morrison Government has been calling for an inquiry into the origin of COVID-19 for some weeks to better understand how the virus started in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Government backs a European Union motion for an independent investigation.
“We support the EU motion which includes an independent investigation, regulatory work on wet markets and also the potential for independent inspection powers,” Mr Hunt told Sky News.
But such an examination sparked a harsh response from Australia’s largest trading partner.
Earlier in the month, Beijing lashed out at Prime Minister Scott Morrison, saying he deserved “a slap in the face” for trying to blame the COVID-19 pandemic on the communist state, and warned any push for an independent inquiry into the virus’ origins would spark a travel and trade boycott.
State media newspaper The Global Times lashed out at the PM in a piece headlined, “Morrison’s adventurism could damage China-Australia relations beyond repair”.
“The Morrison administration is spearheading this malicious campaign to frame and incriminate China with groundless conjecture and outlandish fabrications,” the editorial stated.
“Based on unsubstantiated anecdotes and hearsay, Australia has been spreading preposterous lies accusing China of opening wet markets trading in wildlife across the country. Sensational tales, which are far from reality, are being told by media shock jocks and some politicians, who allege that bats are on menus in restaurants in China. This nonsense is stigmatising the Chinese community and the Chinese way of life.
“This is an all-out crusade against China and Chinese culture, led by Australia.”