An analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics figures shows while total trade between Australia and the rest of the world fell by 3.7 per cent year-on-year, it rose by the same amount with China, knocking off more than $2 billion out of an overall drop of more than $7 billion.
Trade with China was worth $71.6 billion in the first six months of last year. It increased to $74.2 billion this year.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the COVID-19 pandemic was testing all Australian producers and businesses. Senator Birmingham and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne have not spoken to their Chinese counterparts since January.
“Despite the ongoing domestic and international challenges, Australian exporters across a range of sectors like resources, agriculture and advanced manufacturing continue to withstand global economic shocks and remain highly sought after in our key markets,” Senator Birmingham said.
Between May and June 2020 alone iron ore exports to China rose by 14 per cent, offsetting a 15 per cent fall in coking coal. Agriculture exports also grew by 4 per cent despite meat falling by 2 per cent. Grains were up by 33 per cent worldwide, while wool added 24 per cent.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner and accounts for a third of all of Australia’s exports. The relationship between the two countries has been marred by multiple disputes over the coronavirus, Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the rejection of China’s flagship 5G provider Huawei from western mobile networks.
China launched trade strikes on $1 billion worth of Australian beef and barley in April and has urged students and tourists to reconsider travelling to Australia. Australian cotton growers have also been caught short after the collapse of a Chinese importer left thousands of cotton bales stranded and producers up to $20 million out of pocket.
Senator Birmingham said he recognised the COVID-19 crisis was placing immense pressure on parts of the economy, including tourism and education businesses, “many of whom felt the earliest and deepest aspects of the economic downturn”.
China’s Foreign Ministry has accused Australia of politicising the pandemic and sabotaging international cooperation as it confronts multiple disputes with the United States, Britain and India.
“We reiterate that the Chinese side is unwavering in upholding national sovereignty, security and its legitimate rights and interests. We are firmly committed to maintaining regional peace and stability. Any attempt to pressure China will never succeed,” a spokesman said on Thursday.
“We urge Australia not to go further on the road of harming China-Australia relations, and truly proceeding from its own interests, do more things that are conducive to mutual trust and cooperation between the two countries.”
Eryk Bagshaw is the China correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Due to travel restrictions, he is currently based in Canberra.