China suspends beef imports from four Aussie meat processors amid souring ties

JBS Australia's Dinmore facility in Brisbane. It is among four of the largest meat processors in Australia that have been banned from exporting beef to China due to issues with labelling and health certificates.
JBS Australia's Dinmore facility in Brisbane. It is among four of the largest meat processors in Australia that have been banned from exporting beef to China due to issues with labelling and health certificates. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
JBS Australia's Dinmore facility in Brisbane. It is among four of the largest meat processors in Australia that have been banned from exporting beef to China due to issues with labelling and health certificates.
AUSTRALIAN TRADE MINISTER SIMON BIRMINGHAM

SYDNEY • China has suspended beef imports from four of Australia's largest meat processors, as the trade in several key agricultural commodities suffers in the wake of souring ties stemming from a dispute over the Covid-19 pandemic.

The suspension comes after Australia last month called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, and just days after China proposed introducing an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley shipments.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham described the import suspension as disappointing, but denied it was retribution by China over Australia's desire for a coronavirus inquiry.

China rejects the need for an independent probe, and Beijing's ambassador to Australia, Mr Cheng Jingye, last month said Chinese consumers could shun Australian goods in response to Canberra's support for such an investigation.

Mr Birmingham said Kilcoy Pastoral, JBS' Beef City and Dinmore plants, and Northern Co-operative Meat have been banned from exporting beef to China due to issues with labelling and health certificates.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters yesterday that China's Customs agency "continuously" found instances of the Australian companies having violated inspection and quarantine requirements and suspended the imports to "ensure the safety and health of Chinese consumers".

China's Customs "notified the relevant Australian departments and required them to investigate completely the reason for the problem and to fix it", Mr Zhao said during a daily briefing in Beijing. He added that the suspension was unrelated to the bilateral dispute.

"Thousands of jobs relate to these meat processing facilities. Many more farmers rely upon them in terms of selling cattle to those facilities," Mr Birmingham told reporters.

Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said the companies made up about 20 per cent of the country's beef exports to China, which are worth more than A$3 billion (S$2.77 billion).

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2020, with the headline China suspends beef imports from four Aussie meat processors amid souring ties. Subscribe