China yesterday said that it would impose anti-dumping tariffs on Australian wine, the latest salvo in an increasingly terse standoff between the two nations that has worsened since Canberra called for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.
Since flagging the probe, Beijing has on several occasions used the threat of diminished access to its vast domestic market as a stick to beat Australia, and has suspended imports of some products, including beef and timber.
In the latest blow, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced that wine importers would be forced to pay deposits ranging from 107 to 212 percent of the value of their goods at customs, saying that the move was in response to “substantive harm caused to the relevant domestic wine industry.”
However, Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham yesterday blasted the punitive measure as “grossly unfair, unwarranted, unjustified,” and called the dumping accusation “erroneous in fact and in substance.”
At a news conference, Birmingham said there was a “perception” that China was engaging in a “deliberate strategy, piling on pressure in a number of different sectors.”
Canberra would continue to raise with the WTO “our concerns about the number and cumulative effect of China’s trade sanctions against Australia,” he said.
In August, China’s commerce ministry said that it would probe dumping — when a country sells goods in a country for less than it costs at home — throughout last year, at the request of the Wine Industry Association of China.
Wine exports to China last year hit a record A$1.3 billion (US$958 million at the current exchange rate), Australian government data showed, making it the biggest market by value for Australia.
The news sent shares in Treasury Wine Estates Ltd — which owns the popular Penfolds brands — tumbling more than 11 percent before trade was halted.
China’s commerce ministry has complained that Australian wines benefit from government subsidies that give them an advantage over Chinese products.
Relations between the two nations have increasingly deteriorated this year and Beijing has produced a laundry list of complaints about Australian policies — from banning Huawei Technologies Co’s (華為) participation in 5G to its call for a probe into the origins of COVID-19.
A Chinese official earlier this month gave a dossier to Australian media containing 14 grievances, reportedly telling the outlets: “If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hit back, saying that Australia “won’t be compromising” on issues such as foreign investment laws and 5G.
In May, China suspended imports of beef from four Australian slaughterhouses and imposed 80 percent tariffs on barley shipments from the country.
Two Indian merchant ships carrying Australian coal have been stuck at Chinese ports since the summer, with Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) on Wednesday saying that authorities had found “many cases where imported coal didn’t meet our environmental protection standards.”
Beijing has also warned people not to visit Australia for study or tourism, alleging anti-Asian sentiment in the wake of the pandemic.
The two nations are also locked in an ongoing row over spying, with China accusing Australia of raiding the homes of Chinese journalists as Canberra investigates an alleged covert influence campaign by Beijing.
China has charged Chinese-born Australian writer Yang Hengjun (楊恆均) with espionage, and detained Australian Cheng Lei (成蕾), a news anchor for Chinese state media.
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