A fiery editorial in a Chinese state-owned paper will not hurt the roughly $11.5 billion worth of Australian exports, but experts say it highlights some issues with the trade.
The Global Times, a paper that measures success by how much it gets quoted in foreign media, took direct aim at beef and wine exports, which it said could be replaced with similar goods from other countries.
Part of wider criticism about the state of Australia’s diplomatic relations with China, wine and beef were chosen specifically as luxury consumer products worth about $1 billion and $780 million in annual exports respectively.
A number of experts have already weighed in on the state of affairs between Australia and China, saying it is not in crisis at the moment.
But given their exposure, farmers are acutely aware that any disruption of the trading relationship will hit them hard.
“As a sorghum grower, I can see immediately when China enters the market here, adding extra competition and lifting the price,” National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said.
“We’ve just seen recently what happened when India imposed a tariff on chickpeas that hit prices there and immediately impacted farmers on the ground.”
Strong trading relationship vital
Ms Simson said her organisation would continue to advocate to the Federal Government about the need to maintain strong trading relationships with China, despite differing opinions on geopolitical issues.
ChinaAG director Loren Puette said while China had a number of ways it could easily disrupt trade, any actual action would be a long way off.
“Australia and China have a fairly firm footing, especially with the free trade agreement, which has been in place for three years now.
“There are plenty of avenues to resolve differences before they pass a point where imports are curtailed or cut off.”
“There’s been a fond hope for years, that the modernisation of China meant that they were being westernised, and that’s patently not true,” Cross Border Management managing director CT Johnson said.
“They’re taking things they find useful, but adapting them to their own culture.”
Mr Johnson said many in the west had a fundamental misunderstanding of China’s planned trajectory, which could make it increasingly difficult for Australian exporters.
“I don’t say that Australian companies or farmers need to kowtow to Chinese buyers or the government, I don’t believe that,” Mr Johnson said.
“They don’t understand what’s likely to cause demand to go up or down. That’s the most frightening part to me.”
Mr Johnson said employing more Chinese language speakers and putting them in positions where they “help an Australian company interact in a better way” with Chinese counterparts would be a big step forward.
By Clint Jasper