SYDNEY – The Australian government has asked China for clarification on whether it has implemented a restriction or ban on the importation of Australian coal, an exchange valued at AU$14 billion ($10 billion) a year.
After reports of a halt emerged, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said on Tuesday that he had asked through diplomatic channels if Beijing had ordered its companies to stop buying Australian coal, in yet another chapter of diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
“I’ve seen those reports and I’ve had discussions with the Australian industry and we are making approaches to Chinese authorities in relation to that speculation” about a disguised ban, the minister told Sky News, the transcript of which was posted on his website.
Last week, the specialist media S&P Global Platts and Argus Media reported that the Chinese authorities gave orders to state energy companies, among others in the sector, to stop importing Australian coal.
If so, it would not be the first time that China has suspended coal imports from Australia, the world’s largest exporter, but the government hopes that the Asian giant will honor the bilateral Free Trade Agreement, public broadcaster ABC reported.
During this year, China has imposed tariffs on Australian barley, considering it to be subsidized, and suspended imports of meat from the country.
These measures have been interpreted as a retaliation against Australia after the Oceanian country launched an international investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was endorsed Monday night at the World Health Assembly, the World Health Organization’s decision-making body.
China is Australia’s main trading partner, with a bilateral exchange of AU$235 billion ($169 billion) in the financial year 2018-19, an increase of 20.5 percent over the previous period.
The bilateral relationship between the two countries has been deteriorating due to issues such as the militarization of the Asian giant and the approval in Australia of laws against interference and foreign espionage, following complaints of Chinese donations to politicians and cyberattacks against state agencies and universities that have been attributed to Beijing.