Australia takes wine dispute with China to WTO

The Australia government on June 19 said it is lodging a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over China's imposition of anti-dumping duties on Australian wine exports.
June 20, 2021 | 07:51
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Australian winemakers shipped just 12 million Australian dollars ($9m) of wines to China in the four months from December to March, from $325 million Australian dollars ($243m) a year earlier [Stringer/AFP]
Australian winemakers shipped just 12 million Australian dollars ($9m) of wines to China in the four months from December to March, from $325 million Australian dollars ($243m) a year earlier. Photo: AFP

The decision follows "extensive consultation with Australia's winemakers", it said in a statement, adding that "Australia remains open to engaging directly with China to resolve this issue."

The move is the latest incident in an escalating trade and diplomatic stand-off between Australia and its largest trading partner, and follows warnings by Prime Minister Scott Morrison that his government will respond to countries trying to use "economic coercion" against it.

The action also came just days after a summit of the G7 grouping of advanced economies that echoed Australia's call for a tougher stand against China's trade practices and more assertive stance globally, AFP reported.

Australia takes wine dispute with China to WTO
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison called on G-7 countries to endorse reform of the WTO. Photo: AFP

Beijing has imposed tough economic sanctions on a range of Australian products in recent months, including tariffs or disruption across several agricultural sectors, coal, wine and tourism.

Many in Canberra believe the measures are punishment for pushing back against Beijing's influence operations in Australia, rejecting Chinese investment in sensitive areas and publicly calling for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Al Jazeera said last year Australia launched a formal appeal to the WTO seeking a review of China’s decision to impose hefty tariffs on imports of Australian barley.

The wine tariffs doubled or tripled its price and made the Chinese market unviable for exporters, the Australian government had said earlier.

Australian winemakers shipped just 12 million Australian dollars (US$9m) of wines to China in the four months from December to March, from 325 million Australian dollars (US$243m) a year earlier, industry figures showed, confirming that hefty new tariffs have all but wiped out their biggest export market.

Beijing has imposed tough economic sanctions on a range of Australian products in recent months NOEL CELIS AFP/File
Beijing has imposed tough economic sanctions on a range of Australian products in recent months. Photo: AFP

‘Dispute-settlement system’

Earlier in June, Morrison called on the WTO to address the standoff between the two countries and days later won the support of the Group of Seven countries for a tougher stance against China’s growing impact on global trade.

On June 19, the government said that despite the complaint, Canberra was ready to cooperate with Beijing.

Australia remains open to engaging directly with China to resolve this issue,” Dan Tehan, minister for trade, tourism and investment, said in a joint news release with the Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.

The latest move came just a week after a summit of the G7 grouping of advanced economies echoed Australia’s call for a tougher stand against China’s trade practices and its more assertive stance globally.

 working session of the G7 summit is held on June 12. Photo: AFP
working session of the G7 summit is held on June 12. Photo: AFP

The G7 summit ended on June 12 with the announcement of US-led plans to counter China’s trillion-dollar “Belt and Road Initiative”, the hallmark of its efforts to extend economic influence around the world.

The grouping promised hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment for low- and middle-income countries in a “Build Back Better World” (B3W) project.

The B3W was seen as aimed squarely at competing with China’s efforts, which has been widely criticised for saddling small countries with unmanageable debt.

Morrison attended the summit as part of a G7-plus formula that also brought in the leaders of the Republic of Korea (RoK), South Africa and India, and made clear he would push the other nations for joint action against China’s aggressive trade policies.

The most practical way to address economic coercion is the restoration of the global trading body’s binding dispute-settlement system,” he said in a speech just ahead of the summit.

Morrison has received explicit backing in his government’s confrontation with China from the US, as well as from French President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to Paris following the G7 meeting./.

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