Australia Pauses Lobster Exports Amid China Customs Dispute

Australia Pauses Lobster Exports Amid China Customs Dispute
Crowds gather for last minute shopping before Christmas at the Sydney Fish Market on December 23, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Australia's Seafood Trade Advisory Group has warned that China's customs office may continue to target Australian lobsters until "at least the end of this week" as Beijing continues its campaign of trade hostilities against Australia.

Australia's Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told reporters on Nov. 3 that the lobster industry has now put some shipments on hold until there is more certainty.

As a premium Australian product, rock lobsters only have a time window for safe delivery and any disruptions to the export timelines could cause harm to the industry.

"Australia prides ourself on being a high quality, safe exporter of premium product, and we have absolute confidence that our industry meets the type of safety standards that are necessary into whatever market it is that they are exporting," Birmingham said.

The announcement comes after Chinese customs authorities left tonnes of Australian rock lobsters sitting on the tarmac at a Chinese airport after customs agents instituted a new testing regime at the end of October.

Birmingham said that China's custom delays were centred around a new testing regime that looks for metal content levels within Australia's wild-caught lobsters.

On Nov. 2, the Australian Seafood Trade Advisory Group (STAG) said that they were working closely with Chinese authorities to understand the new inspection processes.

"We expect that the situation will become clearer now that normal business has resumed following the weekend," the group explained in a media release.

The advisory group also took the unusual approach of issuing a call to arms to their customer base in China.

Acknowledging that they were aware that many families in China were planning special occasions, particularly weddings, in November, the advisory group said.

"We understand that many families in China are planning important occasions in November, particularly weddings, and we are working hard with our partners to get Australia’s premium wild-caught rock lobster to China for these celebrations," they said.

"By working together with our customers we believe that we can resolve this trade disruption ensuring commercial benefits to everyone," STAG said.

China is a Growing Risk for Australian Business

The delays experienced by the Australian lobster industry is the latest in a growing line of trade casualties, which have so far targetted the beef, barley, iron ore, and timber industries.
This comes a the Chinese regime pursues its "grey zone" style trade war on Australia after Foreign Minister Marise Payne called for an inquiry into the origins of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus.

Sascha-Dominik Dov Bachmann, an international law professor and an expert in grey zone (or hybrid) warfare, told The Epoch Times that the communist regime in China had deployed operations against Australia in several grey zone domains.

“From cyber, from influence operations, to basic trade boycotts, and diplomatic threats. It’s a whole spectrum,” he said.

Australia has become increasingly aware of China's grey zone activities.

In July, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds warned that many countries were now using grey zone activities to achieve their international agendas amid an uncertain global climate.

“Cyber-attacks, foreign interference, and economic pressure seek to exploit the grey area between peace and war,” Reynolds said.

“In the grey zone, when the screws are tightened: influence becomes interference, economic cooperation becomes coercion, and investment becomes entrapment."

Australia's trade minister also said that Australia must recognise the "risk factor" in doing business with China.

"We must recognise, and Australian industry does recognise, the risk factor appears to have changed as a result of some of the unpredictable administrative decisions that have been made at the Chinese end," Birmingham said.

The minister then urged Chinese authorities to come to the table on issues like the barley dispute to find a positive pathway forward rather than having to go through the long process of the World Trade Organization dispute resolution process.

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.