Coronavirus News Asia

China suspends Australian beef imports over inquiry

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China suspended imports from four major Australian beef suppliers Tuesday, only weeks after Beijing’s ambassador warned of a consumer boycott in retaliation for Canberra’s push to probe the origins of the coronavirus.

Analysts said the move raised concerns of a possible stand-off between Australia and its most important trading partner that could spill over into other crucial sectors as it struggles to navigate the disease-induced economic crisis.

Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said shipments of meat from the abattoirs had been suspended over “minor technical” breaches related to Chinese health and labeling certificate requirements.

“We are concerned that the suspensions appear to be based on highly technical issues, which in some cases date back more than a year,” he added.

“We will work with industry and authorities in both Australia and China to seek to find a solution that allows these businesses to resume their normal operations as soon as possible.”

The four meatworks account for about 35% of Australia’s beef exports to China in a trade worth about A$1.7 billion (US$1.1 billion), according to national broadcaster ABC.

China has also flagged major tariffs on Australian barley over allegations it is selling the grain in China for less than it costs to produce it – known as dumping. The Australian Financial Review cited confidential documents as saying Beijing is considering duties of 73.6%. 

Tensions between the two have increased since Australia started calling for an independent investigation into the origin of the coronavirus outbreak, which started in China before spreading around the world, killing more than 280,000, infecting millions and shattering the global economy.

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