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Australia Government's 'mismanagement' of China relationship to blame for trade woes, Labor says

23:04  12 may  2020
23:04  12 may  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said the Prime Minister was making key industries nervous by allowing the relationship with Beijing to sour.

"We may be getting just an initial taste of the economic cost of mismanaging our relationship with our most important trading partner," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

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"We must never forego our interest abroad in the interest of chasing votes here in Australia, and I think that is exactly what the Prime Minister has been doing."

In recent days, China has signalled it would slap Australian barley exports with an 80 per cent tariff and has banned red meat exports from four abattoirs.

Mr Fitzgibbon said he had spoken with industry leaders expressing concerns that the tariffs and suspensions were a "consequence of a deteriorating relationship … mismanaged by the Australian Government".

"They are very nervous that this may be an early taste of economic pain to come," he said.

Trade interventions separate, says meat council

But the National Farmers Federation (NFF) has played down the significance of China's trade interventions.

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"We recognise in relationships as significant as that between Australia and China, from time to time, issues do arise," NFF president Fiona Simson said.

About one third of Australia's farm exports are sold to China, including 20 per cent of the beef and almost half the barley produced in Australia.

The Australian Meat Industry Council, which represents two of the abattoirs affected by the bans, said the two trade interventions were very different.

"It really is anyone's guess as to potentially other commodities and if China would want to apply something what would that be, because these certainly are two very different issues," CEO Patrick Hutchinson said.

Mr Hutchinson said the bans applied to meat shipped from May 12, and therefore meat already in transit would not be affected by the suspensions.

He would not estimate the value of the lost trade, but said the abattoirs accounted for 20-30 per cent of red meat exports to China — a trade that's annually worth billions of dollars to Australian farmers.

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Processors surprised

On Tuesday, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the labelling concerns which led to China halting the beef exports were an issue dating back more than a year.

But Simon Stahl, CEO of the Northern Co-operative Meat Company, said he was surprised to be notified of his abattoir's suspension.

"It's not comfortable to know that you're suspended from any market, because we take pride in being in all markets, so we've just got to knuckle down and get back in," Mr Stahl said.

Mr Stahl said he was confident no jobs would be lost from the Casino abattoir as a result of the suspensions, although he did not know how long they might last.

"There may be some changes to the kill program, some cattle may have to go to a plant that's registered for China, a little bit early to see," Mr Stahl said.

In a statement, JBS — owners of Queensland's Beef City and Dinmore abattoirs — said it had been informed by Australian authorities about the suspension relating to technical issues.

It said it was working with the Australian Department of Agriculture to understand the issues China had raised.

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Call for coronavirus inquiry not linked to ban, Chinese ministry says

Chinese Ministry for Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian said China imposed the ban when state customs authorities found products exported by Australian companies violated quarantine and customs requirements jointly agreed to by Australia and China.

"We already notified the Australian side about this and we ask the Australian side to investigate and correct that," he said.

He said Australia's call for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 was not linked to the ban.

"These are totally two different things," he said. "I don't think you should take them as one, or make any erroneous political interpretation.

"The origins of the virus requires assessment of specialists and scientists.

"Using the virus for political manoeuvring will only disrupt the epidemic cooperation.

"China always believes that mutual respect should be the basis for the development of good relations."

No joke, China, this is a triumph of Australia's middle-power diplomacy .
Australia has set an example of effective global leadership from a middle power in testing times. The Morrison government, and particularly Foreign Minister Marise Payne and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, are right to celebrate the global support of the motion as a win for the international community and Australia.Philip Citowicki was an adviser to former Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and a former political aide to Australia's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

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