China suspends Australian beef imports from four abattoirs

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China has suspended imports from four large red meat abattoirs, fuelling concern of a campaign by Beijing against Australian producers in response to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s push for an independent coronavirus inquiry.

The meat export freeze follows China’s threats to impose severe anti-dumping tariffs on Australian barley exports, worth $600 million due to drought last year.

Political tensions between Australia and China have ratcheted up sharply since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, culminating in a warning last month from China’s ambassador, Cheng Jingye, that Chinese consumers could choose to boycott Australian products such as beef and wine out of a patriotic sense of duty. Australia will push for a global independent probe into the origins of COVID-19 at the World Health Assembly this week.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham and Agriculture Minister David Littleproud on Tuesday said the government was notified late on Monday that four Australian meat establishments – two Queensland abattoirs owned by Australia’s largest meat processor, JBS, as well as Kilcoy Pastoral Company near Brisbane and Northern Co-operative Meat Company at Casino, NSW – had been suspended over labelling and health certificate requirements.

“We are concerned that the suspensions appear to be based on highly technical issues, which in some cases date back more than a year,” they said in a joint statement. “We will work with industry and authorities in both Australia and China to seek to find a solution that allows these businesses to resume their normal operations as soon as possible.”

China’s claims against Australia’s dumping of barley, made public on Sunday, are also largely based on technical grounds and have been described as spurious by some trade experts.

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