WTO complaint ‘next step’ in tariff dispute between Australia and China, trade minister says | International trade

The Australian government is continuing its tough talk against Beijing’s trade impositions with the trade minister, Simon Birmingham, giving the strongest indication yet that Canberra will take its complaints to the World Trade Organization.

China first announced it believed Australian wine was being dumped in China in August and last week the Chinese ministry of commerce announced tariffs on Australian wine products that would double or triple prices making export trade “unviable”.

The wine export blow came after tariffs on Australian barley were announced in May. At least 60 ships laden with coal from Australian producers have also been denied permission to enter Chinese ports – leaving them waiting off the coast while Australian authorities attempt to find a resolution to the standoff.

Birmingham said on Sunday the trade conflicts were not just harming Australia but threatened global trade confidence, as the world economy struggled to recover from the Covid pandemic.

The minister did not label the Chinese government’s actions as “coercion” when asked on ABC’s Insiders program if that was happening. But he said that after attempting to resolve the issues through the Chinese Communist party’s domestic processes, taking the barley issue to the World Trade Organization (WTO) was “the next step”.

“I expect that will be the outcome,” he said.

“We are working through exactly when and making sure we have the evidence lined up. Last week, through the trading goods committee at the WTO, Australia outlined seriously our range of concerns in terms of this accumulation of instances from China of adverse trade decisions against Australia.

“We do see those as a very concerning development. We are calling them out through the WTO, while also still using all of those processes in the Chinese system to try to resolve them, but ultimately, these are Chinese decisions, China has chosen to apply them on Australia, and only China can choose to reverse them.”

The wine decision would not be part of any immediate complaint to the WTO, Birmigham said, as it was still being described as an “interim application of tariffs” and China’s domestic processes needed to be worked through.

The federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said later on Sunday that Australia’s trade had helped the Chinese economy grow – but only one side had changed the rules.

“We have not changed our position. China has become more assertive and this has created real challenges on the trade front,” he said.

“But we will continue to make our case to the Chinese government about the importance of this two-way trading relationship and we are always ready to engage in respectful and mutually beneficial dialogue. The prime minister has made that point and I have made that point continuously.”

Frydenberg said where Australia’s national interest needed to be defended “we make no apologies for various actions that we have taken on a number of fronts including having a foreign investment framework that ensures the national interest is protected”.

Birmingham said the CCP had become more assertive as its economy grew and Australia wanted to see “that assertiveness channelled into good, into engaging in ways with the rest of the world, that helps to drive economic growth rather than dampens it.”

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