• Bloomberg


Australia’s Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says he is “deeply troubled” by reports that China has formally banned imports of Australian coal, in the latest sign the dispute between the nations is worsening.

More than 50 ships carrying Australian coal have been stranded off China after ports were verbally told in October not to offload such shipments. That ban appears to have been formalized, with the National Development and Reform Commission on Saturday giving power plants approval to import coal without restrictions, except from Australia, the Global Times reported.

If true that would “indicate discriminatory trade practices,” Birmingham said. “The risk profile of trading with China has grown significantly during the course of this year,” he said in an interview Tuesday with Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

The diplomatic row between China and Australia just keeps getting worse, with no obvious off-ramp to the downward spiral in relations between the two key trading partners.

Ties have been fraught since 2018, when Canberra barred Huawei Technologies Co. from building its 5G network on national security grounds. They went into the deep freeze earlier this year after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. Beijing accuses Canberra of being a puppet of the U.S. and of meddling in its internal affairs. It has hit Australian barley and wine with crippling tariffs and told traders to stop buying commodities including copper, sugar, timber and lobster.

It is a marked reversal in the once cordial relationship that saw Australia host a state visit by President Xi Jinping in 2014 and sign a comprehensive free-trade agreement a year later.

The government is concerned that China’s actions don’t appear to be consistent with “the letter or the spirit” of that trade agreement, Birmingham said. Australia is very close to mounting a case against the barley tariffs at the World Trade Organization and is considering the avenues open to it for coal, he said.

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