Thousands of litres of craft beer was stopped from entering China last month, the latest Chinese customs data shows.
The South China Morning Post reports the 8794kg of craft beer from Sydney Beer Co. was stopped at port city Xiamen, southeast China, in November because of incorrect labelling.
More than 8300kg of boneless and bone-in beef products from Queensland abattoir Meramist suspended by Chinese customs was also stopped over a certifications issue.
Meramist is the sixth Australian meat processor to be banned from China.
It is the latest in the feud between China and Australia, with Beijing now less likely to overlook any shipment errors from Australian imports.
Australian agricultural expert Simon Quilty said China’s tolerance to any shipment errors had dropped in recent years.
“Once upon a time, China was willing to show more tolerance and help resolve these issues together. Today, there is little left in China’s ‘goodwill bank’ towards Australia,” he told the Post.
China’s ban on beef imports from Australian abattoirs has cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars already.
“Beef supply roughly has been reduced now by a third … the suspended companies made up a hell of a lot of that, so it is hard to quantify, but certainly it’s in the many hundreds of millions of dollars that we’ve gone backwards on,” Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson told the ABC this month.
CHINA’S TRADE WAR
This month Australia called for the World Trade Organisation to investigate Chinese tariffs on barley imports, turning to an “independent umpire” to adjudicate one of several bitter politically tinged disputes between the two nations.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham denounced Beijing’s 80 per cent surcharge on Australian barley shipments as “not underpinned by facts and evidence”, and suggested further WTO action could be in the pipeline.
“We have continued to raise our concerns with China on numerous occasions,” Birmingham said, lamenting that efforts to reach a negotiated settlement had failed.
“We now believe that calling in the independent umpire is the most appropriate course of action to resolve this dispute,” he added, admitting the process of arbitration and appeals could take years.”
Australia’s barley exports to China had been worth around US$1 billion a year before a recent drought, used most notably used in brewing.
It is the first time Australia has taken legal action against China at the WTO over what commentators have dubbed “shadow trade war” between Beijing and Canberra.
Many in Canberra believe the sanctions are punishment for Australia pushing back against Beijing’s influence, rejecting Chinese investment in sensitive areas and publicly calling for an investigation into the origins of coronavirus.
Each trade dispute has been billed as a technical issue, and in the case of barley China argues that Australian farmers produce the grain with government subsidies and sell it below cost, so should be subject to anti-dumping duties.
Australia had until now shied away from taking the disputes to the Geneva-based organisation, fearing resolution could take years, open Australia up to retaliatory claims and worsen relations further.
At least 13 Australian sectors have been subjected to Chinese tariffs or some form of disruption, including beef, coal, copper, cotton, lobsters, sugar, timber, tourism, universities, wine, wheat and wool.
Zhou Xin, political economy editor at the South China Morning Post, wrote an editorial on Tuesday warning the Community Party was shooting itself in the foot.
“Beijing’s trade measures targeting Australia … could be seen as China using its trade power through its huge domestic market as a weapon to serve political purposes,” he wrote.
“This perception will not help Beijing’s effort to be viewed as a believer in, and supporter of, free trade, nor advance its goal of joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional 11-member trade deal in which Australia is a member.
“It could also undermine China’s own efforts in seeking closer trade and economic ties with regional trade partners. After all, who would want to cultivate a closer relationship when it could be used as a tool of punishment in the future?”
Dr Jeffrey Wilson, research director at the Perth USAsia Centre, told the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ China Power podcast on Tuesday that China’s dumping of Australian exports was “massive and unjustified”.
“We’ve seen what’s been a political dispute boiling away for two or three years over issues a lot of people recognise, then suddenly turn into this quite hostile and now very highly valued trade dispute,” he said.
But Nick Coyle, CEO of China-Australia Chamber of Commerce, told the Global Times that Australian businesses needed China.
“Australian industry can say that it emphatically ‘realises’ the importance of the China market. China is the destination for over one third of total exports and constitutes almost 20 per cent of its imports,” he said.
But Mr Coyle did not want to comment on what impact the feud between the two nations would have on Australian businesses and whether iron ore would be the next industry hit.
“Our members prefer to focus on areas which China and Australia have in common. Iron ore is an important resource commodity for both Australia and China. Trade will continue because it is in the interests of both countries for it to do so.”