China-Australia relations: importers remain under pressure to cut orders of Australian products as ban looms

Su-Lin Tan
·3-min read

Importers in China are continuing to receive phone calls from custom clearance agents to cut orders of Australian products due to a high risk they could suffer losses, as the state-run media confirmed an “import suspension”.

Agents, who are responsible for clearing goods into China after arrival at ports and airports, said major ports in Shanghai and Qingdao were preparing to step up inspections of Australian products.

On Thursday, many Australian exporters and Chinese importers were holding their breath in anticipation of the new restrictions on imports of a list of Australian products, namely barley, sugar, red wine, logs, coal, lobster, copper ore and concentrate, that are set to take come into force on Friday.

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While the Chinese government has not confirmed the restrictions with an official statement, the state-run Global Times acknowledged the “import suspension” in an article on Wednesday.

When asked whether it had instructed importers to stop buying Australian products, the Chinese government said on Tuesday that “relevant companies reducing imports of relevant products from Australia are acting on their own initiative”.

Sources on Thursday told the South China Morning Post that a wholesale market in Shanghai was looking to step up inspections of all seafood and fruits imports from Australia, but on Friday it emerged this was no longer taking place.

The Chinese government has also said several times this week that any inspections and quarantine measures undertaken would be in line with laws and regulations, and that it hoped to have a “sound and stable China-Australia relationship” based on mutual trust.

Despite the government’s comments, verbal communication from custom clearance agencies has been filtering down to importers across China, telling them that shipments could be severely delayed after Friday.

Import ban on Australian copper, sugar expected after blocks on lobster, timber, barley

The potential ban on Australian products came to light earlier this week after China ceased imports of Queensland log timber and barley shipments from Australian grain exporter Emerald Grain, citing pests and contamination.

The ban could take effect in the form of delays, rejections and inspections, and any losses would be borne by traders themselves.

There are, however, fresh indications that goods already on their way could still be accepted if importers notify China customs authorities at relevant ports.

Australian wine exporters have so far been hit hardest by the expected blockage. Many of them said they were surprised by China’s “unprecedented” move, which has resulted in their orders being cancelled ahead of the possible ban.

The escalation in tensions between China and Australia, which has shown no sign of abating after seven months, occurred after Canberra pushed for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus in April, without consulting Beijing.

Other trade actions that have occurred during the conflict include bans on cotton and coal and an anti-dumping duty on Australian barley.

This story has been updated to reflect new information that Huizhan wholesale market in Shanghai was not told directly by the Shanghai port authority that inspections would be conducted on fruit, but rather by customs agents who claimed to be relaying information from relevant authorities. The headline and various sections of the text have been updated accordingly and the reference to Huizhan wholesale market in Shanghai has also been removed.

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