SYDNEY – After China’s suspicions of covert restrictions by China on the importation of Australian coal, Canberra asked on Friday that Beijing clarify if the same thing is happening with cotton, some exchanges that further strain relations between the two countries.
Since the beginning of the year, China – Australia’s main trading partner – has taken measures in the form of tariffs, restrictions or trade investigations, with barley, beef, wine and more recently, coal and cotton.
Executive directors, Adam Key of the Australia Cotton Association, and Michael O’Rielley of the Cotton Transport Association, said in a statement on Friday that “the National Development Reform Commission in China has recently been discouraging their country’s spinning mills from using Australian cotton.”
They added that the cotton industry will continue conversations with the government and stakeholders to “fully understand this situation” and will continue working with Canberra to “respectfully and meaningfully engage with China to find a resolution.”
In China, the government determines the amount of cotton that the country’s factories can import through a quota system and, according to unidentified Australian government sources cited by national broadcaster ABC, it is feared that tariffs of up to 40 percent will be imposed on the raw material.
Faced with Beijing’s silence amid this new dispute, Australian Commerce Minister Simon Birmingham warned that “impeding the ability of producers to compete on a level playing field could constitute a potential breach of China’s international undertakings, which would be taken very seriously by Australia.”
“China should rule out any use of discriminatory actions against Australian cotton producers,” he added.
China’s trade measures have been interpreted as a retaliation against Canberra after it called for an international investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was supported on Monday at the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization.
The two countries have 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.
Ties between the two countries have 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.