Australia’s farm lobby has attempted to quash fears that China’s trade blitz on Australian agriculture could grow.
- NFF says “issues arise from time to time” after China bans meat imports, plans barley tariffs
- China has history of using farm trade as a political lever
- Some industries fear more disruption to trade
Just weeks after the ambassador representing Australia’s largest trading partner threatened a consumer boycott of Australian beef and wine, China has announced plans to effectively end imports of Australian barley, with an 80 per cent tariff and banned beef imports from four Australian abattoirs.
In response, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) said in a statement that it was concerned about the trade disruptions, adding “in relationships as significant as that between Australia and China, from time to time, issues do arise”.
The statement made no mention of fears the trade disruptions were the result of Australia’s political relationship with China, or the Prime Minister’s call for a COVID-19 inquiry which provoked the Chinese ambassador’s call for a boycott.
Some farmers fear the two are linked, and that more Australian exports could be targeted, including the high value wine and dairy industries.
‘Not a dairy issue’
United Dairyfarmers of Victoria spokesman Andrew Leahy told ABC Melbourne, his industry felt “like we’re the next in line to be a pawn in a political play from China.”
But the national lobby Australian Dairy Farmers refused to comment on the China situation, saying “it’s not a dairy issue”.
In 2018, some shipments of Australian wine to China were held up at Chinese ports, during a tense time in Australia’s political relationship with China.
Australian Grape and Wine’s Tony Battaglene has told the ABC he did not believe the barley tariffs or beef suspensions were linked to the political tensions between Australia and China.
Australia’s wine exports to China are worth about $1 billion a year.
Earlier, the Federal Opposition flagged concerns about Australia’s trade relationship with China, saying it has been contacted by several industry leaders following the announcement of the barley tariff and beef suspensions.
Trade clampdown should be no surprise
Global agriculture bank Rabobank says China’s tariffs on barley and ban on beef should not come as a complete surprise to Australian farmers.
“Regrettable as the trade clampdown has been, it can’t come as a complete surprise to Australia or its agriculture industry,” Head of Research at Rabobank Australia and New Zealand, Tim Hunt said.
“China has a history of using agricultural trade as a political lever going back at least 10 years.
“It’s used this lever with Australia itself in the past and its ambassador has warned Australia as long as a year ago that we were headed down this path,” Mr Hunt said.
Mr Hunt said while the timing and commodity at the centre of the clampdown was never certain, it was “completely forceable” that China would use its agricultural trade to send a signal.
Mr Hunt said the past decade had shown several examples of China’s willingness to use its agricultural trade as a political lever.
“In 2010 we saw a Norwegian-based panel awarded a Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident, in the years after that Chinese purchases of salmon from Norway were slashed,” Mr Hunt said.
“Canada arrested a Huawei executive in late 2018 that annoyed China, and China subsequently found reasons to block Canadian shipments into China of canola, beef and pork.”
“These things were never explicitly tied, but there always seems to be a history of loss of access to Chinese import markets in agriculture occurring at times if heightened political tension.”
Mr Hunt said it would depend on China, and Australia’s political response to China, as to whether or not the trade disruptions continued.
“Fingers crossed this is enough for China to send the signal it wants to deliver, but you can’t rule out its extension,” he said.