Australia brings in WTO to challenge China’s trade bully

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Liberal MP Andrew Hastie and Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching (first and second from top left) are members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, formed by former UK Tory party leader Iain Duncan Smith (second from bottom left).

Canberra is escalating its trade dispute with Beijing to the World Trade Organization, after attempts to privately resolve the issue failed, according to the Guardian.

China imposed an 80 percent tariff on Australian barley imports in May. Chinese authorities said the tariffs are a result of an anti-dumping investigation, a claim rejected by the Australian government and growers.

In one of his last major actions as trade minister, Simon Birmingham announced bringing in the WTO as an adjudicator, a process that can take years to complete, was the “logical and appropriate next step”.

Birmingham, who is moving to the finance portfolio, said Australia would formally advise the WTO of its intentions on Wednesday night.

“We have been a long-standing defender of the international rules-based system, of the importance of multilateral cooperation and engagement. In doing so it is appropriate that, when we argue for there to be international rules and an independent international umpire to resolve disputes, that when we find ourselves in the case of having such disputes we call in the umpire,” he said.

Beijing has accused Canberra of playing the victim amid ongoing speculation coal is the latest commodity embroiled in the stoush through a ban on the valuable export.

It was reported that more than 50 vessels carrying Australian coal have been stranded off China after ports were verbally told in October not to offload such shipments.

Relations between China and Australia have been fraught since 2018 when Canberra barred Huawei from building its 5G advanced mobile network on national security grounds and Scott Morrison called for an independent coronavirus inquiry.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Tuesday night said the Australian government’s decision to block two deals was a “violation of market economy principles and international trade rules”.

Wang identified the decision to block APA Group’s $13 billion gas pipeline cash takeover bid from Hong Kong-based CK Infrastructure Holdings in 2018 and a $600 million deal for Lion Dairy & Drinks from China’s Mengniu Dairy in 2020 as breaches.

“Recently we’ve seen many reports in which Australia dresses up as a victim, pointing an accusing finger at China, directly or by insinuation,” Wang said. “In fact, it is the Australian side that has been politicizing economic, investment, and technological issues, and discriminating against Chinese companies. It has gone so far down the wrong path.”

Earlier, foreign ministers from nine countries including Germany, France, and Canada have been urged to issue statements in support of Australia against China’s attempts at “bullying and coercion”, according to Sydney Morning Herald.

Members of Parliament and of the global Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China are sending a joint letter to their foreign ministers on Tuesday, London time.

The letter is signed by MPs from Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, European Parliament, France, Germany, Italy and New Zealand.

The parliamentarians said the attempts by the Chinese government to “threaten, bully and coerce Australia into acquiescing to its political demands” were a threat to “democratic countries everywhere.”

Earlier this month the group IPAC launched a global campaign to encourage people around the world to buy Australian wine in December to support winemakers.

China’s state media criticized the campaign and described IPAC as a “nuisance alliance”.

“In face of the anti-China rhetoric stirred up by the IPAC, China must take a tit-for-tat stance,” an opinion piece published by the populist Global Times wrote.

Australia has one tool in its arsenal which can hurt China just as much as it can hurt us and it would send a “very clear message” if it was used.

The Herald Sun’s business columnist Terry McCrann said Australia’s iron ore exports are a “weapon” that can be used against Beijing because “there is no alternative to our product.”

Australia has one tool in its arsenal which can hurt China just as much as it can hurt us and it would send a “very clear message” if it was used.

“We should be making it very clear to China that we can hurt them just as much as they can hurt us, and it would send a very clear message to them that we can mess with you just the way you’ve been messing with us.”

By Winnie Troppie

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China has accused Australia of playing the victim in a trade war.

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