Australian diplomats have used a regular international review of China’s trade policies to detonate Beijing’s economic sanctions campaign against Australia, warning that its behavior could alienate trading partners and undermine international confidence in China.
Australia’s WTO representative explicitly accused China of imposing restrictions on goods in political retaliation
New comments could indicate Australia is ready to capitalize on its position as a CPTPP signatory
Australia-China relationship remains hostile after disputes over trade, political interference and origins of COVID-19
The Chinese government has hit a range of Australian products – including barley, wine, timber, lobster, cotton and coal – with both formal and informal sanctions, including crippling tariffs, suspensions importation and long delays at customs.
In an unusually forceful statement, Australia’s representative to the World Trade Organization, George Mina, said China had “increasingly tested global trade rules” with its behavior and that Australia was one of “many WTO members” who had faced disruptive measures from the Chinese government. .
Mina said China’s tactics included “arbitrary border inspections”, “undue delays” on import licenses and “the imposition of anti-dumping and countervailing duties” which “had” severely limited or ended. “to trade in more than a dozen Australian products.
“The implications of China’s actions go beyond their impact on Australian exporters – they increase the risk and uncertainty in the Chinese market for the global business community,” the statement read.
“By undermining agreed trade rules, China is also undermining the multilateral trading system on which all WTO members rely.”
Mr Mina also explicitly accused China of imposing restrictions on Australian goods in retaliation for political disputes, saying there was a “growing body of evidence” that its actions were “politically motivated.”
He quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who said earlier this year that Australia would not be able to “reap benefits” by doing business with China while “blaming and baselessly slandering China “.
Mina also said there were “credible reports” that the Chinese authorities had asked importers not to purchase certain products, which was “against WTO rules”.
A “campaign of name and shame”
Jeffrey Wilson of the Perth USAsia Center said Australian officials were using the WTO Trade Policy Review to target China’s gray area trade sanctions by “calling a spade a spade” in a “classic name campaign. and shame “.
“By rephrasing this as China’s behavior as a rule-abiding member of the global economy, it allows Australia to form an international coalition against its coercive trade practices.”
Although the Chinese government has not significantly stepped up its trade sanctions campaign this year, relations between Australia and China remain mired in hostility.
Australian ministers are still being denied access to their Chinese counterparts, and Beijing recently raised new suspicions in Canberra by suspending trade with a ninth Australian slaughterhouse, citing chemical contamination.
Earlier this month, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott also drew a furious reaction from the mainland when he delivered a speech in Taiwan accusing Chinese authorities of intimidation and intimidation on the autonomous island.
The Chinese Embassy called Abbott a “failed and pitiful” figure, while Chinese state media warned that “the worst is probably yet to come” in Australia-China relations because the Canberra politicians were “increasingly hostile” to Beijing.
However, power shortages appear to have forced Chinese authorities to relax their informal ban on imports of Australian coal.
Australia strengthens its position
Mina’s comments may also indicate that Australia is ready to use its position as a signatory to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) to pressure Beijing to end its campaign. of economic coercion.
The Chinese government has said it wants to join the CPTPP, a free trade agreement that includes Australia and several other Pacific Rim countries.
But Australia, along with the 10 other countries that have signed the pact, are expected to agree to restart negotiations before Beijing can join.
The government has not ruled out supporting China’s bid, but Trade Minister Dan Tehan has made it clear that Australia will only initiate talks on the subject at ministerial level, forcing Beijing to lift its undeclared ban on high-level meetings between the two. countries.
Mr Tehan also said that CPTPP members should be confident that countries wishing to join “will implement and meet the high standards of the agreement” as well as demonstrate “a history of meeting its commitments under the WTO and existing trade agreements. “