Australia says it doesn’t want trade war with China

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA (AP) – Australia’s Trade Minister said yesterday that his country does not want a trade war with China, but maintained Beijing had erred by imposing stiff tariffs on Australian barley in what is widely seen as punishment for advocating an investigation into the coronavirus pandemic.

China effectively ended imports of Australian barley by putting tariffs of more than 80 per cent on the crop, accusing Australia of breaching World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules by subsidising barley production and selling the crop in China at below production costs. The move came a week after China banned beef imports from Australia’s four largest abattoirs over labeling issues.

“Australia is not interested in a trade war. We don’t pursue our trade policies on a tit-for-tat basis,” Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told reporters. “We operate according to the trade rules that we strongly support.”

Birmingham said China “has made errors of both fact and law” in applying WTO rules, adding that there was no evidence that Australia was engaged in dumping of products.

The trade dispute has coincided with Australia’s push for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and responses to it. Beijing has denied they are related.

The World Health Organization (WHO) bowed to calls on Monday from most of its member states to launch an independent probe into how it managed the international response to the virus, which was first found in China late last year. The evaluation would stop short of looking into contentious issues such as the origins of the virus.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said China supports the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response to COVID-19 and it should be “based on science and professionalism led by WHO, and conducted in an objective and impartial manner.”

Australia has been seen as a leader in rallying global support for an inquiry, attracting Chinese criticism that it is parroting the United States and inviting a Chinese boycott of exports and services.

The Chinese Embassy in Australia said yesterday that the WHO consensus reached by its decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, in Geneva did not vindicate Australian calls for an investigation.

“The draft resolution on COVID-19 to be adopted by the World Health Assembly (WHA) is totally different from Australia’s proposal of an independent international review,” an embassy statement said.

“To claim the WHA’s resolution a vindication of Australia’s call is nothing but a joke,” the statement added.

University of New South Wales international trade expert Weihuan Zhou said China began its barley investigation in 2018 in response to Australia imposing anti-dumping duties on Chinese steel and aluminum.