Four abattoirs have been blacklisted.
These represent 35% of beef exports to China.
Australia has called for an investigation into China’s handling of COVID-19.
Government denies any link to fraying diplomatic relations.
China has threatened 80% tariffs on barley exports.
China has suspended trading licences of four Australian abattoirs that are said to account for as much as 35% of Australia's overall beef exports.
Two abattoirs in Queensland operated by Australia's largest meat processor, JBS, in addition to the Kilcoy Pastoral Company and Casino-based Northern Co-operative Meat Company have been suspended from exporting to China- the world's largest consumer market for beef.
There is notable speculation that this is the result of Beijing delivering on its threats, after calls for an independent investigation into China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic sparked outrage from Beijing. The ABC is writing that “there are fears the barriers introduced by Australia’s largest trading partner are in retaliation to Prime Minister Scott Morrisons demand for an independent investigation into the COVID-19 outbreak.”
An industry insider has told the ABC that between those four abattoirs account for more than 35% of the beef exported to China, a trade deal worth in excess of $3.5 billion annually.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham alongside Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said that the government was notified yesterday of the sudden change to trade status, and they have been suspended due to labelling, as well as health certificate requirements that weren’t met.
The ministers denied speculation that the move was in response to Scott Morrison’s calls, instead, Birmingham & Littleproud said it was linked to “highly technical issues,” that dated back "more than a year."
“It’s in no way related to the export arrangements for Australian beef or for Australian barley or for anything else,” he said. “We certainly don’t see any relationship, and we would expect that no other counterpart country should see a relationship between those factors either.”
“We will work with industry and authorities in both Australia and China to find a solution that allows these businesses to resume their normal operations as soon as possible,” Birmingham concluded.
Jeffrey Wilson, a research director at the PerthUSAsia centre told the SMH that "we have gone from consumer boycotts to no barley next year... that is an extraordinary escalation. It goes well beyond what the ambassador promised."
A spokesperson for the Australian Meat Industry Council has said that China has a strict set of guidelines for its foreign meat imports, which the council says it takes “exceptionally seriously.”
“While not desirable, we have dealt with issues of this nature before and are working closely with the Commonwealth,” they said. “This is a trade and market access issue that is being led by the Commonwealth.”
There remain serious concerns, however, about diplomatic relations that could sour. Just last month, China’s ambassador to Australia announced publicly that if Australia continued its calls for an investigation into how China handled the COVID-19 outbreak, there would be Beijing-led consumer backlash.
Ben Lyons, an expert on Chinese trade at Southern Queensland University confirmed that China was indeed playing “diplomatic games.”
“I always find it a little bit ironic that when they ban meat plants, there’s one of them that’s Chinese invested, in the Kilcoy abattoir, so it’s not as orchestrated as we think sometimes.”
“China hasn’t got 9 per cent of the world’s arable land anymore. They’ve also got a big issue in terms of labour, they’ve got issues around productivity,” he added. “I think there’s a lot that we have [that China needs] and I think it is a case of a few different forces growing, it is not something that the barley producers have done wrong or the beef producers.”