Australia Won’t Play China’s ‘Tit for Tat’ Trade Games

May 20, 2020 Updated: May 20, 2020

Australia’s federal trade minister said the government will not engage in an economic war despite the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “wolf warrior” diplomatic tactics towards Australia.

Trade minister Senator Simon Birmingham said in an interview on May 19 that Australia’s trade policy is based on the international rules on trade.

Birmingham said that the government would not be putting tariffs on Chinese goods because: “We don’t conduct our trade policy on a tit for tat basis.”

Birmingham praised Australia’s trade relationship with Japan in a post on Twitter, however, the bilateral trade relationship with China is currently strained by the CCP’s trade sanctions on Australian barley and its ban on beef imports.

The timing of the sanctions has raised questions about whether China was retaliating after the Australian government continued to push for an independent inquiry into the origins of the CCP virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.

The Morrison government has denied that there’s a link between the two events but did say that he would be disappointed if this was the case.

Speaking to 6PR Mornings on May 19, Birmingham noted that Chinese authorities had said there were no ties between the virus inquiry and China’s barley tariffs which had been ongoing long before the virus outbreak.

“China is emphatic that they have run this as a technical trade remedy action. They’ve put it through their anti-dumping process. It was commenced 18 months ago and today was always the deadline for a determination to be made. So they’ve stretched out the full-time frame, and it is in that sense, at least, coincidental,” remarked Birmingham.

National Farmers Federation (NFF) President Fiona Simson said in a media statement on May 12 that the NFF was concerned about agricultural trade between Australia and China.

“Two-thirds of Australia’s farm production is exported. Almost one-third of this, 28 per cent, is exported to China, including 18% of our total beef production and 49% of our barley,” Simson said.

However, Simson said the NFF had every confidence in the government to address the issues at hand.

“We recognise in relationships as significant as that between Australia and China, from time to time, issues do arise.

“When they do it is important that both parties work together in a respectful manner to, as soon as possible, resolve the challenge, to an end that is satisfactory to both,” Simson continued.

Chinese authorities, however, are making negotiations difficult for the federal government.

Birmingham explained to Fran Kelly on ABC Breakfast Radio on May 19 that the Chinese commerce minister had not spoken to him ahead of these decisions—a fact Birmingham said was “deeply disappointing.”

As a result, the federal government is reserving the right to take China to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to redress the trade sanctions.

Epoch Times Photo
A customer selects a bottle of Australian wine at a supermarket on June 17, 2015 in Beijing, China. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Comparing similar WTO mediated trade disputes with other friendly nations, Birmingham said: “We’ve got a sugar case against India, a wine industry case against Canada, they’re great friends of Australia, and the fact we have a trade dispute with them doesn’t change our cooperative relationship in a whole range of fields.”

Australian exporters will also get a reprieve on when Australia’s new free-trade agreement with Indonesia comes into effect.

In a media release on May 7, Birmingham noted that under the new deal: “Producers of grains, live cattle and meat, dairy and horticulture, and many other products will benefit from lower tariffs and improved access to Indonesian markets.”

The FTA with Indonesia will commence on July 5. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has said that the annual trade in 2018-2019 between Australia and Indonesia was worth 17.8 billion making Indonesia Australia’s 13th largest trading partner in 2019.