China has reacted angrily to claims, made by Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, it is undermining a free trade deal through restrictions and tariffs on Australian exports.
Senator Birmingham says recent trade strikes and restrictions on Australian exports violate the 2015 deal and also raise questions about China’s adherence to World Trade Organisation rules.
“The targeted nature of Chinese government measures on Australian goods raises concerns about China’s adherence to the letter and spirit of its ChAFTA and WTO obligations,” he told the Senate on Wednesday.
The minister said China was ignoring measures under the free trade agreement requiring regular meetings and reviews.
“After a reasonable start in bilateral engagement, in recent years the Chinese government’s lack of engagement has prevented use of these structures,” he said.
In response, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy said Birmingham’s “so-called concerns” were “totally unfounded”.
“As a matter of fact, China has actively fulfilled its obligations under the agreement. Import tariffs from Australia has been lowered for six consecutive years since 2015. At present, about 95% of imported goods from Australia enjoy zero tariffs,” the spokesman said.
‘We hope Australia can do more to enhance mutual trust’
“In contrast, more than 10 Chinese investment projects have been rejected by the Australian government under the pretext of ambiguous national security or national interests since 2018.
“Since 2016, the Australian government has launched 25 anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations against Chinese products.
“These measures, inconsistent with the letter and spirit of ChAFTA, have undermined Chinese companies’ interests and brought negative impact on economic and trade cooperation between the two countries.
“A sound and stable China-Australia relationship serves the fundamental interests of the two sides.
“We hope Australia can do more to enhance mutual trust and bilateral cooperation in line with the China-Australia comprehensive strategic partnership so as to bring the bilateral relations back to the right track as early as possible.”
The Australian government raised China’s treatment of Australian barley, wine, meat, lobsters, timber, coal and cotton at a WTO meeting late last month.
“The Australian government is considering all dispute settlement options in order to support our exporters,” Senator Birmingham said.
He said Australia’s door remained open for ministerial dialogue, adding he had requested meetings at regular intervals, most recently last week.
“Australia remains committed to constructive and workable relations with China,” he said.