Australia says China silent on trade talk request, maintains call for coronavirus inquiry

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – China has not responded to a request for urgent talks after Australia’s key agriculture exports were hit with suspensions and tariff threats, said Australia’s trade minister, as ties strain over Canberra’s call for a coronavirus pandemic inquiry.

Australia is pushing for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak to help prevent future pandemics, but the move has angered China, its largest trading partner, which believes such a call is anti-China propaganda.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said on Wednesday he had not received a reply after requesting a call with Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan after four large beef exporters were suspended this week by Chinese customs authorities.

“The ball is very much in the court of the Chinese government,” Birmingham told ABC television. “We have made it very clear that I am available and keen to have a discussion.”

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.

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

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