SYDNEY • 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 yesterday.
"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-19."
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 amounted to 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 its wine. Australia has denied it is dumping wine in China, whose duties - from 107.1 per cent to 212.1 per cent - took effect on Saturday.
Australia had earlier responded to the wine tariffs by warning Beijing that its actions could create a perception among businesses and countries around the world that trade with China is risky.
Businesses and countries viewing Beijing's backlash against Australia this year would see the "potential that their trade, their businesses, can be disrupted through these sort of unwarranted, unsanctioned actions that frankly don't stand up", Mr Birmingham told reporters in Adelaide last Friday.
China has reiterated that it had "taken measures on imported products in accordance with the law".
"Certain people in Australia have clung to a Cold War mentality and ideological biases," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a briefing in Beijing last Friday.
"They have taken China's development as a threat and taken a series of erroneous deeds and words.
"This is the reason why China and Australian relations have taken a nosedive and are now stuck in the current difficult situation."
Mr Birmingham indicated that Australia may take China to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over its move to halt imports of barley, adding that efforts to resolve the 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 yesterday said the Australian government would look into assisting exporters hurt by China's trade measures.
"It is a difficult time and there are tensions," he 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."