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SA exporters on edge amid conflicting reports over 'deeply troubling' China trade crisis

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Chinese media reports that authorities are planning to halt imports of Australian wine, lobsters, sugar, coal, copper, barley and timber are “deeply troubling”, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says.

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News that China was blocking the products, worth around $6 billion, has come from state-run newspaper The Global Times in recent days.

Individual sectors have been informally advised of the trade strikes but there has been no formal announcement from the Chinese government.

“The ongoing reports that we’re getting from industry and a range of different news sources are deeply troubling, and there’s no denying or getting away from that fact,” Birmingham told Adelaide radio station FIVEaa this morning.

“There’s a lot of inconsistency in what we see and hear as well – Chinese official government statements denying any coordinated effort being taken against Australia, they deny any discriminatory actions that are being taken.

“But that doesn’t seem to be what industry is seeing and hearing at present. And ultimately the proof will be in the pudding. If there are no such discriminatory actions in place, then we should be able to resolve the issues that some of our seafood producers have found in terms of the clearance through customs, which should not see a disruption to our wine exports to China.“

Reports filtered through on Monday that tonnes of Australian lobsters worth $2 million, including shipments from SA, had been left on the tarmac at a Chinese airport due to customs clearance delays.

New claims also emerged this week that China was also considering a request from the China Alcoholic Drinks Association to place retrospective tariffs on Australian wine imports.

This coincided with several reports from SA wine companies that Chinese authorities had sent an informal message to importers telling them to stop importing certain Australian goods including wine from November 6.

Australia’s largest wine company Treasury Wine Estates is co-operating with a Chinese anti-dumping investigation into Australian wine but its chairman Paul Rayner yesterday conceded the makers of Penfolds was preparing for a range of potential outcomes including “mild to severe tariffs”.

Presiding over his first AGM as CEO yesterday, Tim Ford said the company was aware of media speculation in recent days relating to a potential embargo of Australian exports into China but TWE had not received any advice from Chinese authorities in relation to it.

“These investigations do not change our long-term commitment to China and we will continue to focus on building our brands in this market and further developing the deep relationships we have with our customers and strategic partners,” he said.

“We welcome the opportunity to participate in this investigation directly and the team is currently responding to detailed information requests.”

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud told ABC this morning there had been no formal notification to the contrary that Australia’s normal trading arrangements with China would take place.

“While I understand and appreciate there’s a number of rumours going around, the last formal notification was that the Chinese officials rejected any discrimination against Australian commodities, and we take them on face value,” he said.

“But we continue to work in Beijing, not only through the Department of Agriculture, my people on the ground there, but also, DFAT officials in making sure we get that clarification, that certainty.

“So, we’re working through it calmly, but there is a lot of rumours swirling around at the moment, it’s important we deal in fact, and that’s what we’re trying to work through with Chinese officials in Beijing as we speak.”

The Federal Opposition has described the Australian government’s diplomatic relationship with China as completely hopeless.

“It is no good to point over at China or indeed any other country and say it’s not our fault,” Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles told Nine on Friday.

“We’re seven years down the path of this government and there’s not a single personal relationship of substance that exists between anybody in this government and anyone in the Chinese government.

“That is a situation which is completely hopeless.”

 – with AAP

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