Australia’s opposition agriculture minister has blamed Prime Minister Scott Morrison for inflaming tensions with Beijing and sparking the latest trade salvo against Australia.
Joel Fitzgibbon, the federal Labor Party’s opposition agriculture minister, told Canberra radio station 2CC on Aug. 19 that Morrison was to blame for Beijing’s latest trade salvo.
“I think his language and attitude towards China has been outrageous,” he said.
Fitzgibbon agreed that it was important to stand-up for Australian values, but not “unnecessarily offend” the communist regime. He called for “statecraft or diplomacy” from the prime minister.
“Scott Morrison going out ahead of the rest of the world calling for an inquiry into COVID-19, when there was always going to be an inquiry … [and] suggesting there should be United Nations-style weapons inspectors into Wuhan,” he continued.
Australia was the first nation to call for an official inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 in April, a move that raised the ire of Beijing.
Fitzgibbon referred to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a “big gorilla” and said that it was going to “punish” Australia.
The minister presides over the electorate of Hunter, which has a prominent coal industry. He said he was concerned that further retaliation could affect Australia’s coal exports to China, worth $14 billion annually.
On Aug. 18, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced it was launching an investigation into anti-dumping allegations on Australian wine exporters to China. The claims allege Australian winemakers are deliberately selling wine into China at below-the-market prices—even below production cost—effectively “dumping” the product into China to drown out competitors.
Dumping can also occur if production is subsidised by the government, giving exporters an advantage of being able to sell at low cost.
Critics have pointed out that many Australian wines being sold into China are actually premium brands, including Penfolds and Jacob’s Creek.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham noted on Aug. 18 that Australian wines had the second-highest average price in China in the first half of 2020, following New Zealand wines.
Prime Minister Morrison has remained firm in the face of Beijing’s latest actions, telling reporters on Aug. 19, “We totally don’t accept any suggestion that there has been any dumping of Australian wine in China whatsoever.”
“We will never trade away our sovereignty in Australia on any issue,” he added. “We will be consistent, clear, and respectful and we will get on with the business.”
China is Australia’s largest wine export market, accounting for 37 percent of exports valued at over $1 billion (US $792 million) annually.
The wine investigation is the latest Beijing-instigated action targeting key economic trading channels between the CCP and Australia.
Over the last few months, Beijing has imposed tariffs on Australian barley imports, banned imports from four Australian abattoirs, and issued travel warnings to Chinese citizens about visiting Australia – targeting the valuable education and tourism sectors.
Beijing also suddenly handed down a death sentence to jailed Australian actor Karm Gillespie on June 10, seven years since Gillespie was put in a Chinese prison in 2013.
The wine investigation by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce is expected to wrap-up by Aug. 18, 2021.
The Australian government is diversifying and exploring new export markets including Denmark, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, and Sweden, AAP noted.