Australian wine imports have been “suspended” by China amid trade tensions...

The Chinese government has dramatically increased the stakes in its economic campaign against Australia. Several Chinese importers received verbal instructions this week to stop supplying Australian wine – a blow to a market worth more than a billion dollars last year.

Important points:

  • According to industry information, wine imports will no longer clear Chinese customs after Friday
  • Wine exports to China were $ 1.26 billion in 2019
  • The Federal Minister of Commerce says the reports are worrying and the government is trying to get more information

At least four wine importers have been instructed by their local traders to stop importing Australian wine. Chinese trade officials in several cities organized “off-the-record” meetings where phones were banned in order to relay the new policy.

Australian industry sources have told ABC that they have been warned by importers that shipments of Australian wine will no longer clear customs after Friday.

Several traders told the ABC that wine was not the only destination. Shipments of Australian lobster, sugar, coal, wood, wool, barley and copper ore should also be unofficially suspended starting November 6, posing a potential risk of a $ five to six billion blow to Australia’s economy.

However, the Chinese authorities reject the request for new guidelines. Representatives from the major ports in Ningbo and Guangzhou have informed ABC that they have not received any new notice of changes.

Chinese Commerce Department officials have reportedly denied the existence of any new guidelines for Australia.

A Shanghai-based importer said the reported disruption in wine imports was a response to the recent surge in wine deliveries from Australia, possibly before the tariffs were introduced.

Earlier this year, China announced it was investigating claims that Australia had been selling wine below production cost and subsidizing its farmers, raising fears that tariffs might be imposed.

Last year, Australian wine exports to China totaled $ 1.26 billion – by far the largest foreign market.

During the September quarter, the value of exports to China rose 23 percent from the year-ago period, indicating a COVID rebound and possibly a preventative buy-up due to speculative sanctions.

A Hangzhou-based wine importer has already told ABC it is moving to orders for New Zealand wine, but a Shanghai-based importer said deliveries of New Zealand wine are also in the line of fire.

A vineyard

A vineyard

The federal government says, given that China has said Australia is not targeted, it should address current concerns.(ABC News: Dean Faulkner)

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce did not respond to a question posted by email and the phone numbers listed went unanswered.

A Chinese customs official referred the ABC to previous comments from the Chinese Foreign Ministry on wood, lobster and barley and said there was nothing new to add.

Many exports have already targeted various forms of restrictions in the Chinese market, including the ongoing anti-subsidy and anti-dumping investigations into wine, a freeze on new coal orders, huge tariffs on barley, and a ban on some supposedly due wood exports to pests and, in the last few days, the raid of Australian lobsters in a port in Shanghai.

Australia’s annual copper exports of 3.7 billion US dollars to China have not yet been targeted, nor have sugar exports worth around 100 million US dollars last year.

Chinese Trade Minister Zhong Shan pauses during a press conference.

Chinese Trade Minister Zhong Shan pauses during a press conference.

Chinese Trade Minister Zhong Shan has refused to speak to the Australian Trade Minister about the ongoing export problems.(AP: Andy Wong)

“We shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” said Minister of Commerce

China’s Trade Minister Zhong Shan has repeatedly denied requests from Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham’s to speak directly about China’s various trade disputes with Australia.

Senator Birmingham has requested a phone call from Mr. Zhong since May when China began targeting barley and beef exports.

In a statement, the Secretary of Commerce said that “the numerous reports of difficulties faced by various Australian exports entering China are a cause for concern.”

“We continue to ask the Chinese authorities for clarity to encourage them to address problem areas.”

Senator Birmingham also said, in the spirit of China’s earlier statements, that Australia would not be targeted and should address current concerns.

The latest measures come just days before the opening of an annual import fair in Shanghai, at which representatives of the Chinese government will again repeat that China is “opening the door to free trade further”.

Freshly cooked western rock lobster

Freshly cooked western rock lobster

Recently, tons of live lobsters were stranded at Chinese airports and clearance houses while they were waiting to be inspected by customs officers.

Chinese officials and state media deny any political motives for the various trade measures, but have previously linked economic relations with the need for more “mutual respect”.

“The government should be more measured by the way it communicates about China,” said Madeleine King, spokeswoman for Labor’s Trade.

She also suggested a forum “to listen to business leaders who are seriously concerned about the relationship and have a legitimate place in this important national discussion”.

“This would provide practical advice to the government and show everyone that we value our trade relations with China,” said Ms. King.

Australian exporters were unsure

Late Tuesday there was speculation that Australia’s wheat trade with China could also be affected by new trade sanctions.

While some industry sources have told ABC they don’t believe trade is likely to be affected, others expect to hear more from Chinese authorities on Wednesday.

The Chinese authorities had already warned against increased inspections of wheat consignments.

In a typical year, Australia’s wheat trade with China is valued at around $ 400 million and accounts for about eight percent of the export market.

The ABC assumes that Australian wheat exporters have currently booked significant wheat shipments to sail to China in the coming weeks.

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