Beijing's Misguided ‘Assertiveness’ Stifling Global Economic Recovery: Australian Trade Minister

Beijing's Misguided ‘Assertiveness’ Stifling Global Economic Recovery: Australian Trade Minister
Senator Simon Birmingham, Canberra, Australia, May 14, 2020. (Sam Mooy/Getty Images)
Alex Joseph

Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says the Chinese communist regime's recent trade disruptions are not just damaging Australian businesses but also that of its own people.

Birmingham told ABC Insider host David Spears in an interview on Sunday that he will do all he can to resolve the attacks on Australian imports by China. He urged communist party leaders in Beijing to come clean about what is driving them to impose tariffs and bans, which have had a negative impact on both Australian and Chinese businesses.

Soon to transition to a new role as finance minister, Birmingham is calling on the Chinese government to "speak plainly and clearly about what it is that is driving this consistent trend of actions that are disrupting Australia’s trade," he said. A document listing the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's) grievances with Australia was leaked to Australian media last week, making mention of Australia's Huawei ban and the nation's calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan.

Since the Australian federal government placed a ban on Huawei's involvement in 5G operations in 2017, the CCP has raised various trade issues related to Australia products, which many analysts describe as coercive economic measures to pressure Australia's foreign policy toward the CCP. It started with a dumping investigation into barley, which the Australian government argued was baseless but nonetheless led to tariffs by China of up to 80.5 percent. This was then followed by trade bans and delays in shipments for beef, lobster, and timber industries. The recent attack on Australian wine has seen temporary duties imposed.

The growth of China's economy and increase in Chinese people's wealth is welcomed, Birmingham said, but the way the Chinese regime aggressively asserts its agenda when engaging with the world in is not. "We want to see is that assertiveness channelled into good, into engaging in ways with the rest of the world, that helps to drive economic growth rather than dampens it," he said.

The minister added, "These types of actions don’t just hurt Australian businesses, they hurt their Chinese counterparts as well. They undermine confidence in the global economy and that’s not good for the world’s recovery from COVID."

The Australia government agreed "in good faith" to work through China's domestic appeals process to resolve the dumping dispute over Australian barley but the evidence was rejected by Chinese authorities. Birmingham confirmed that Australia now has no choice but to escalate the matter to the World Trade Organisation.

He noted that while only China can reverse the tariffs, "we are calling them out through the WTO, whilst also still using all of those processes in the Chinese system to try to resolve them."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, speaking on ABC radio earlier on Sunday, said the trade disruptions from Beijing were creating difficulties for Australian businesses, although he remained confident in the resilience of Australia's agriculture sector.

"We will do everything we can to ensure we can try and address these trade issues that have come up with China, technicality issues that they have raised, but obviously we are very concerned about that," he said.

Beijing’s Ministry of Commerce slapped tariffs of up 212 percent on Australian wine exports on Friday, a big hit for an industry that sends over a third of its produce to China and is highly regarded among Chinese customers.