Aussie Farmers Say China’s Tariffs ‘Politically Motivated’

May 19, 2020 Updated: May 21, 2020

The National Farmers Federation is frustrated and deeply concerned after China’s minister of commerce followed through on threats, and has slapped up to 80.5 percent tariffs on Australian barley imports on Monday.

China’s Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council imposed the tariff on barley on the disputed grounds that the Australian government was subsidising the industry and therefore damaging China’s market.

“It is particularly devastating after the time that Australian farmers have had in the last number of years with droughts, floods and fires,” National Farmers Federation CEO Tony Mahar told ABC News Breakfast.

Mahar said that extensive and detailed information disputing the unsubstantiated claims were submitted to China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) by Australia’s grain industry.

“Organisations across the entire spectrum of Australia’s supply chain made submissions that included detailed data around export and domestic sales programs, company ownership, and operational structures,” Mahar said in a media statement.

“Australian grain growers are amongst the least subsidised in the world. They operate in a free and competitive global market. The idea that Australian barley has been ‘dumped’ in China doesn’t match the realities of Australian grain production.”

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is keeping the option of an appeal to the World Trade Organisation open.

“I am deeply, deeply disappointed,” he told ABC Radio National. “We reject the premise and the basis upon which these findings have been made.”

China didn’t once visit Australian farmers throughout its inquiry.

Epoch Times Photo
A view of members taking part on-screen during an unusual G20 Leaders’ Summit, Canberra, Australia March 26, 2020. (Gary Ramage – Pool/Getty Images)

The decision came as Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping announced that he will back the World Health Organisation to undertake an investigation into the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, the novel coronavirus that emerged from China last year and causes the disease COVID-19.

More than 110 nations including China backed the inquiry at the World Health Assembly on Monday night.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said in a statement on April 27 that Australia had made a “principled call” for an independent review of the COVID-19 outbreak which started in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

While Payne had previously said the WHO should not be in the entity to conduct the investigation for conflict of interest, the government seems to have backed down on this demand as the wording of the draft resolution (pdf) put forward on May 18 states that the WHO may set up an impartial committee within the WHO.

Diplomatic Tensions

Diplomatic tensions between Canberra and Beijing were escalating before the CCP virus outbreak.

Grains Industry Market Access Forum (GIMAF) executive manager Tony Russell told The Australian Financial Review that he was convinced the recent trade disputes were “politically motivated.”

Russell said it was apparent to grains industry insiders that Australia’s stance on issues like China’s militarisation of the South China Sea, Huawei, human rights, and national security were factors in the trade disputes.

China’s Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye threatened economic retaliation when the Australian government first expressed a need to investigate the virus’ origins. A few weeks later the Chinese regime banned imports from four Australian abattoirs.

For a week federal trade minister Simon Birmingham attempted open dialogue with his counterpart to no avail.

On May 18, at a Beijing press conference, China’s minister for commerce Zhong Shan was questioned by reports about the trade disputes with Australia. He ignored all questions on the topic for an hour, before leaving, claiming that the two nations are talking.

Australia is the biggest barley supplier to China, exporting more than half of its exports worth up to $2 billion (US$1.3 billion) a year. According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences research, China imported 2.5 million tonnes barley in 2019, compared to 2.1 million exported to the rest of the world.

Producers will be on the hunt for new export markets in India and Indonesia, which has recently signed a trade deal with Australia.

“We’ll reserve our right and consider going to the WTO to get the umpire to make a decision,” federal agriculture minister David Littleproud told Sky News.