SYDNEY (Reuters) – China has responded to concern its decision to impose heavy tariffs on Australian barley was retaliation for a diplomatic dispute, saying Australia had launched 100-times as many trade investigations against China.
China’s Commerce Minister Zhong Shan said China’s anti-dumping investigation into Australian barley that imposed tariffs of 80.5 per cent had complied with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
Zhong has declined requests to speak to Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham about the barley case.
“Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Australia, this case on Australian barley is the only trade remedy investigation launched by China against Australia,” Zhong told reporters in Beijing on Monday.
“In the same period, Australia has launched 100 trade remedy investigations on China, including three cases against China in this year.”
Souring diplomatic ties between the major trading partners have been exacerbated by Australia’s role in pushing for a global inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic.
Asked if the barley decision meant China was a risky market, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday it was “a judgement that Australian businesses can only make”.
Morrison said Australia was working closely with China to establish an interim appeals system in the WTO, after the U.S. blocked its top court.
“The global multilateral trading system rules are incredibly important for Australia,” he said.
The Australian government said it is considering taking the barley dispute to the WTO.
WTO records show Australia and China have never launched disputes against each other through the intergovernmental organization.
Many investigations against China have been lodged through the Australian Anti-Dumping Commission, however.
The commission initiated three investigations into Chinese aluminium and steel products at the request of Australian companies this year, records show.
“Yes, Australia has an anti-dumping system and our decisions are open to appeal through the World Trade Organization,” Birmingham said on Sky News. “China’s chosen not to do that with any of our decisions to date, but it remains their right to do so.”
Shiro Armstrong, director of the East Asian Bureau of Economic Research at the Australian National University, said the anti-dumping cases were protectionist measures “mostly aimed at China”.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Michael Perry)