New Zealand to Back Australia’s WTO Barley Dispute with China

May 31, 2021 Updated: May 31, 2021

New Zealand’s Trade Minister Damien O’Connor has indicated the Ardern government will join Australia’s dispute at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against China.

The backing from New Zealand (NZ) came on the eve of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s visit to the country for high-level talks on a range of issues including a quarantine-free travel zone between the two countries, re-engagement with the Pacific in the wake of COVID-19, and China.

O’Connor told local media, “New Zealand is participating in this dispute as a third party because it raises systemic issues of importance to the effective functioning of the multilateral rules-based trading system.”

“New Zealand was not asked to join as a third party,” he added. “However, we have been a third party in over 60 WTO cases since 1995, and it is not unusual for us to join actions and disputes when we see challenges to international trade rules.”

The more overt display of support from NZ comes in the wake of increased criticism of Jacinda Ardern’s government’s approach to China, which has been described as “too subtle” for international observers to notice.

In contrast, Australia—which lies just across the Tasman Sea—has been engaged in a year-long trade dispute with China, which has attracted criticism of Beijing from U.S. and UK officials.

Beijing instigated its economic coercion campaign against Australia after Foreign Minister Marise Payne called for an independent investigation into the origins of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, more commonly known as the novel coronavirus.

The Chinese regime subsequently slapped tariffs and suspended Australian exports to the country, including coal, beef, wine, barley, lobster, timber, lamb, and cotton.

The tariffs on barley are costing importers around 80 percent and are undergoing dispute resolution at the WTO.

Russia and Canada have already joined the action citing interest in how a ruling will impact global barley markets.

Jeffrey Wilson, research director of the Perth USAsia Centre, said NZ’s participation in the action was not an “empty gesture” and could influence the final decision.

“As ‘third party’ submissions are fully considered in WTO judgements, NZ’s involvement can materially change the outcome. Now, will the U.S., Japan and EU join too?” he wrote on Twitter.

Beijing implemented the tariffs claiming Australian businesses were “dumping” excess barley product into the Chinese market.

Australia disputes the claim, and in its WTO submission (pdf), cited over 30 different issues with how Chinese authorities handled its anti-dumping investigation and its implementation of tariffs.

“China incorrectly defined the product under consideration and also incorrectly defined the like products,” it stated in its submission.

“China initiated investigations without sufficient evidence, China failed to examine or review the accuracy and adequacy of the evidence provided in the application, and China failed to reject the application or terminate promptly the investigation given the lack of sufficient evidence …” it continued.