Australian govt accuses China of undermining trade deal

The Australian government has accused China of undermining their free trade agreement over a series of actions by Beijing against Australian export goods.

In his strongest comments yet, Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said China had “targeted” a dozen Australian goods amid tensions between the countries, the BBC reported on Wednesday.

China has imposed sanctions or halts on Australian goods such as grain, wine and beef this year. This has caused alarm in Australia, as China is its biggest trading partner.

“We continue to raise issues of apparent potential, discriminatory actions targeted against Australia,” Birmingham said, adding Australia was “considering all dispute settlement options”.

China buys more than a third of Australia’s exports, and accounts for 27 per cent of two-way trade. Beijing has accused Australia of “unfriendly” and “hostile” attitudes towards China, amid a deteriorating political row.

Last week, Australia reacted angrily to a Chinese official’s post on Twitter which included a graphic, fake image of an Australian soldier killing an Afghan child.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded an apology from Beijing, which was rejected.

The two nations signed a free trade agreement in 2015, which reduced tariffs and increased access to dozens of goods.

But since May, China has imposed successive sanctions on Australian goods including barley, meat and dairy products, timber, coal and cotton.

More recently, it placed tariffs of up to 200 per cent on Australian wine – citing allegations of illegal trade practices, which are disputed by Australia.

On Wednesday, Birmingham confirmed another Australian beef producer had also been blocked.

“The targeted nature of Chinese government measures on Australian goods raises concerns about China’s adherence to the letter and spirit of its ChAFTA (free trade agreement) and WTO obligations,” he told Australia’s Senate.