Australia escalates China trade dispute to WTO panel

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Australia has asked the WTO to convene a new panel to rule on an ongoing trade dispute with China.


Australia has asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to convene a dispute settlement panel to rule on new tariffs imposed by China, after the two nations failed to reach an agreement.

Trade minister Dan Tehan announced the "next step" for the action, which relates to the export of barley to China. Last year, the Asian country imposed an 80.5 per cent tariff on the products, which were just one of a range of Australian goods to be hit with extra duties as relations between the two countries worsened.

In addition to barley, which is mainly used by Chinese importers to make beer and animal feed, items including Australian wine, beef and coal have incurred tariffs after Canberra emerged as a strong critic of China on issues such as the coronavirus, human rights and national security.

Mr Tehan said: "Australia strongly supports the multilateral rules-based trading system, with the WTO at its core. We will continue to work within that system to stand up for the rights of Australian exporters."

The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) reports that ministers in Australia, including prime minister Scott Morrison, have been struggling to make contact with their Chinese counterparts for more than a year amid the dispute.

Mr Tehan said he had reached out to Chinese commerce minister Wang Wentao in January to emphasize Australia's commitment to a positive trade and economic relationship. However, senior government sources told the SMH he has yet to receive a response.

Mr Tehan said that while there has been "constructive engagement on both sides", this has failed to resolve concerns, which has led to Australia taking the next step at the WTO.

He added: "The WTO dispute settlement system is designed to allow members to settle their differences over trade matters in a respectful manner. 

"This decision is an appropriate use of an established system to resolve our differences and is consistent with action Australia has previously taken to address concerns with measures imposed by other trading partners."