China cuts Australian beef imports as coronavirus tensions escalate
China suspended imports of beef from four Australian producers Tuesday following a threat by Beijing of possible trade retaliation if Australia pushes for an investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the suspensions appeared to be based on “highly technical issues,” some of which dated back more than one year. Birmingham said he was talking with the industry to “formulate a comprehensive response.”
Beijing has rejected calls by Australia and other governments for an international inquiry into the origin of the coronavirus, which emerged in December in central China.
Ambassador Cheng Jingye warned the Australian Financial Review last month that the country might face a Chinese boycott of its tourism and exports of wine, beef and other goods if Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government pressed for an inquiry.
China is the No. 1 market for Australian beef, accounting for about 30% of exports.
The aggressive nationalism of China’s diplomats matches the swagger of Xi Jinping’s China, which is determined to deflect blame for the coronavirus.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, criticized Australia’s “erroneous words and deeds.” Zhao said Tuesday the pandemic shouldn’t be used as a reason to “engage in political manipulation,” which he said would disrupt international disease prevention.
Australia grain exporters said Sunday they were told that China was preparing to raise duties on imports of Australian barley.
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