Australia Lays Bare Beijing’s Coercive Trade Policy at WTO

By Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
October 20, 2021 Updated: October 21, 2021

Australian diplomats have issued a strongly worded statement criticising Beijing’s use of economic coercion and warning that its behaviour could undermine the global trading system.

Australia’s ambassador to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), George Mina, released the statement as part of the global body’s regular Trade Policy Review process.

It said that while increased engagement from Beijing was welcome, it had made little progress in adopting WTO principles and that it needed to “adhere more closely to market-oriented principles.”

“Since its last review, China has increasingly tested global trade rules and norms by engaging in practices that are inconsistent with its WTO commitments. Australia is one of numerous WTO members that has experienced this first-hand,” the statement read.

It outlined a range of activities undertaken by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) against Australian exporters, including arbitrary border testing and inspections, the imposition of tariffs, and unwarranted delays in listing export establishments and issuing import licences.

Epoch Times Photo
Australian beef is seen at a supermarket in Beijing on May 12, 2020 (Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)

The measures have “limited or ended” Australian trade to China across the barley, coal, cotton, hay, logs, meat, rock lobsters, and wine industries.

“China says these actions reflect legitimate concerns, but there is a growing body of information that demonstrates China’s actions are motivated by political considerations,” the statement noted.

“For example, when asked in July 2021 how Australia should handle relations with China, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Minister said: ‘We will not allow any country to reap benefits from doing business with China while groundlessly accusing and smearing China and undermining China’s core interests based on ideology.’”

The Australian government noted that WTO rules did not allow member states—no matter how large they were—to impose such conditions on other nations.

“The implications of China’s actions go beyond their impact on Australian exporters; they raise the risk and uncertainty of the China market for the global business community,” it said.

“By undermining agreed trade rules, China also undermines the multilateral trading system on which all WTO members rely,” it continued. “China has assured members of its commitment to the rules-based order, but from our viewpoint, there is a growing gap between China’s rhetoric and its actions.”

Beijing’s trade strikes against Australian exports began soon after Foreign Minister Marise Payne started calling for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19 in April 2020.

Chinese Ambassador to Canberra, Cheng Jingye, responded with a veiled threat saying bilateral trade could suffer as a result.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg estimated on Sept. 6 that the ongoing economic coercion campaign had contributed to a A$5.4 billion (US$4 billion) drop in exports in the year to June 2021. At the same time, however, exporters have been moving to alternative markets, which saw trade exports to other parts of the world increase by $4.4 billion.

Federal Trade Minister Dan Tehan said Australia would continue to pursue its case against China at the WTO.

“We haven’t seen much change in the last 12 to 18 months, but that doesn’t mean we don’t keep putting forward our case,” he told Sky News Australia on Oct. 21.

“(The statement) calls out what we think are practices that are politically motivated.”

Australia is currently progressing two actions at the WTO against tariffs imposed by Beijing on wine and barley exports.

According to Peter Draper, executive director at the Institute for International Trade at the University of South Australia, obtaining a genuine resolution will be difficult. However, the Australian government is most likely using the platform to expose Beijing’s actions and behaviour.

“As they say, ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant.’ I think that’s what the Australian government is aiming for in this case,” he told The Epoch Times previously.