Australia trade minister says China's trade curbs hurt global confidence

Tensions between Beijing and Canberra have been rising since 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Australia's trade minister said China's steps to curb imports of his country's goods are aggressive and undermine confidence in the global economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

"We do see a much more aggressive or assertive China in terms of the way it engages with the world," Mr Simon Birmingham said on ABC television on Sunday (Nov 29).

"These types of actions don't just hurt Australian businesses, they hurt their Chinese counterparts as well. They undermine confidence in the global economy, and that's not good for the world's recovery from Covid."

China has imposed anti-dumping duties of up to 212 per cent on Australian wine, the latest in a raft of measures that have affected imports from coal to copper to barley.

Tensions between Beijing and Canberra have been rising since 2018, when Australia barred Huawei Technologies from building its 5G network.

Relations worsened this year after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19.

Asked if China's behaviour was economic coercion, Mr Birmingham said: "Right around the world people are posing that question, and I understand why."

China is Australia's largest trading partner and the biggest buyer of Australian wine. Australia has denied it is dumping wine in China, whose duties took effect on Nov 28 and range from 107.1 per cent to 212.1 per cent.

Mr Birmingham indicated Australia may take China to the World Trade Organisation over its move to halt imports of barley, saying efforts to resolve that issue through China's domestic processes had been unsuccessful.

"So now the WTO appeal for barley is the next step," he said. "And I expect that that is the process that we will go through."

Mr Morrison said on Sunday the government will look at assisting exporters hurt by China's trade measures.

"It is a difficult time and there are tensions," the prime minister said on ABC radio.

"We will do everything we can to ensure that we can try and address these trade issues that have come up with China. Obviously we're very concerned about that."

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