China’s Commerce Minister has weighed into a Trade dispute impacting Australian Farmers, saying Canberra has launched more than 100 Trade Investigations since the two Countries established diplomatic relations.

His Comments came as Beijing slammed Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton over his criticism of Victoria’s Trade deal with China under its Belt & Road Initiative.

It is the first time Commerce Minister Zhong Shan has publicly addressed Beijing’s imposition of an 80% tariff on Australian Barley, amid heightened diplomatic tensions between the two Countries.

Many analysts see the tariff as retaliation for Australia’s pushing for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking to China Central Television (CCTV) Network, Minister Zhong reiterated China’s assertion that the decision was the result of an 18 month trade investigation, saying China had “safeguarded the rights of all parties in China and Australia and listened to the opinions of stakeholders”.

“China is cautious and restrained in taking trade remedy measures,” he said. But Minister Zhong said Australia was the source of trade tensions.

“Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Australia in 1972, China has only launched one trade remedy investigation against Australia, which is the anti-dumping and anti-subsidy case against Australian Barley,” Minister Zhong said.

“During the same period, Australia initiated 100 trade remedy investigations against China,” he added.

“Among them, since this year, Australia has launched three cases against China. China has not launched a trade remedy investigation against any country this year.”

The Department of Industry confirmed there were three ongoing investigations into products from China for dumping and there had been roughly 100 trade investigations over the past five decades.

Nevertheless, the Federal Government emphasised it was Australian businesses which reported dumping practices to the independent Anti-Dumping Commission, which had a high bar for launching an investigation and did not take political directives from the Government.

Responding to the statement on Tuesday, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News “this isn’t about keeping a tally or about doing things in a tit-for-tat way. Each country has its own anti-dumping system”.

He said anti-dumping systems prevented goods from being dropped in a market at below-cost value, which could distort the market and drive local producers out of business.

“Australia has an anti-dumping system that we use, and our decisions are open to appeal through the World Trade Organisation (WTO). China’s not chosen to do that with any of our decisions to date, but it remains their right to do so,” he said.

“China has now made this decision on an anti-dumping matter in relation to our barley industry. We reject the basis upon which those findings have been made.”

Most of Australia’s trade complaints against China in recent years have been concerned with steel, not agricultural products.

Australia Denies China’s Accusations of Subsidies & Dumping

Last week, Beijing announced it would proceed with imposing heavy tariffs on Australian barley imports for the next five years, arguing the product had been imported against trade rules.

Minister Zhong told CCTV that after a one-and-a-half year investigation, Chinese authorities had concluded that “dumping and subsidies” for Australian barley had caused “substantial damage to our industry”.

Australia denies any dumping of barley, and after a thorough investigation, both the Government and the grains industry say there is no evidence to support China’s claims.

Both the OECD and the Federal Government consider Australian farmers to be among the least subsidised in the world.

“This decision, we believe, is one that is not based on either good analysis of facts or law,” Senator Birmingham said in response to China’s announcement last week.

Australian farmers sell their products “free of subsidy and at competitive prices”, he said.

China has argued that Australian Government initiatives in the Murray-Darling Basin, which have seen farmers paid to upgrade water infrastructure in return for giving up water rights, are a form of subsidy.

But the Trade Minister has said this suggestion is “completely ridiculous”, given the majority of export barley is grown in Western Australia, thousands of kilometres from the Murray-Darling Basin.

“We are certainly undertaking investigations now as to what the next steps in defence of our barley growers might be and that could well include a WTO appeal,” Senator Birmingham said on Tuesday.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has also said Australia could prosecute its case through the WTO if it could not reach a resolution with China directly.

“In the context of the current global epidemic, I call on members of the World Trade Organisation to unite in fighting the epidemic and use trade remedies with caution,” Minister Zhong said.

China Slams ‘Sinister Intentions’ of Critics of Victoria’s BRI Deal

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijiang has meanwhile responded to the Home Affairs Minister’s recent criticism of Victoria’s deal with China under the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews signed an agreement last October, which, while not legally binding, includes a commitment to work together on infrastructure building.

Mr Dutton has led criticism of the Victorian deal with China, questioning why Mr Andrews believes the decision is in the national interest.

Mr Dutton renewed his criticism of the initiative last week, telling 2GB the BRI was “a propaganda initiative from China” and saying it would bring an “enormous amount of foreign interference”.

But Mr Andrews’ Government has defended its deal with China and responded to Canberra’s calls for an inquiry into COVID-19 by saying no single country should be “vilified” over coronavirus.

“The groundless accusations made by some Australian politicians are totally untenable,” Mr Zhao said when questioned about Mr Dutton’s comments during a press briefing in Beijing.

“They only expose their negligence of the Australian people’s interests and their sinister intentions of damaging China-Australia relations.

“The successful cooperation between China and the Australian state of Victoria under the BRI framework was determined and implemented by the two sides through friendly consultation with a view to improve the well being of the people.”

Mr Zhao added he hoped the “relevant people on the Australian side will bear in mind the interests of their own people, discard ideological prejudices and do more to promote mutual trust and cooperation between China and Australia, rather than the contrary”.

A spokesperson for the Victorian Government said “this agreement is about creating opportunities for Victorian businesses and local jobs, opportunities that will be more important than ever as we rebuild from the Coronavirus Pandemic”.

“We have no update on the roadmap at this time,” they said.

“We are proud to work with the Australia China Belt & Road Initiative, which has also been previously received a grant from the Commonwealth Government and is led by Andrew Robb and Lindsay Tanner.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week threatened to “disconnect” with Australia because the deal “could affect the security of US telecommunications”, comments later downplayed by the US Ambassador Arthur Culvahouse.

“The threat from American politicians is even more bizarre,” Mr Zhao said, deeming it “blatant coercion and interference”.

“What is the relationship between the BRI cooperation between [an] Australian state government and China and the telecommunications security of the United States?”

Mr Zhao questioned why politicians in Australia did not “stand up” against the US, stating it exposed a “deep-rooted ideological bias” by some “on the Australian side”.

Author: Max Walden, Reporter & Producer with ABC Asia Pacific Newsroom in Melbourne.
Editor’s note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of editorial opinion of Belt & Road News.