Australia requests China trade talks, won’t drop inquiry push

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SYDNEY, May 13 (Reuters) – Australia’s trade minister is seeking urgent talks with his Chinese counterpart after key agriculture exports were hit with suspensions and tariff threats, but said Australia will continue to push for an inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak.

Trade minister Simon Birmingham requested a telephone call with Chinese commerce minister Zhong Shan after four large beef exporters were suspended by Chinese customs authorities, Birmingham’s office said on Wednesday.

The beef suspensions revealed on Tuesday came just days after China proposed introducing a tariff of up to 80% on Australian barley shipments, raising concerns they were retaliatory actions by Beijing for Australia’s push for an inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak.

China, which is Australia’s largest trading partner, has rejected the need for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chinese officials had said “privately and publicly these are unconnected matters”, Birmingham told television network Seven on Wednesday, adding that Australia sought a respectful relationship with China.

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