‘There’s no doubt this is the potential beginning of a trade war’

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The dairy industry has called a snap meeting with the federal government as fears grow of a third trade strike from Beijing in retaliation for Australia’s pursuit of a global inquiry into the coronavirus.

Sky News Political Editor Andrew Clennell says “I don’t think there’s any doubt this is the potential beginnings of a trade war” after Beijing imposed a suspension on Australian meat exporters.

The Morrison government was blindsided on Tuesday when China suspended exports from four Australian abattoirs – three in Queensland and one in New South Wales. Despite Trade Minister Simon Birmingham playing down fears of an impending trade war, Mr Clennell said “the government certainly fears this could escalate”.

“The fear is that other industries could cop a hit or even the ambassador’s threat could be carried out in the sense that Chinese people could be put off Australian produce,” he said.

Labor has accused Scott Morrison of using a face-off with China to chase votes at home, warning the consequences could be immensely damaging to exporters.

Opposition agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said the Prime Minister was making key industries nervous by allowing the relationship with Beijing to sour.

“We may be getting just an initial taste of the economic cost of mismanaging our relationship with our most important trading partner,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“We must never forego our interest abroad in the interest of chasing votes here in Australia, and I think that is exactly what the Prime Minister has been doing.”

In recent days, China has signalled it would slap Australian barley exports with an 80 per cent tariff and has banned red meat exports from four abattoirs.

Mr Fitzgibbon said he had spoken with industry leaders expressing concerns that the tariffs and suspensions were a “consequence of a deteriorating relationship … mismanaged by the Australian Government”.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Zhao Lijian, said on Tuesday night that the restrictions on Australian beef exporters were due to violations of quarantine and custom standards. Mr Zhao criticised Australia’s pursuit of the coronavirus inquiry for “political reasons”.

“Mutual respect should be the basis of good relations,” he said.

Source: Sky News, ABC, SMH

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