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Barley growers back Australia in taking dispute with China to the WTO

Grain Growers chairman Brett Hosking said his members were “100 per cent supportive of going to the WTO”.

He said “we need to call in the umpire to ask China to explain how they arrived at this position”.

“As a country – particularly farmers, country people, but probably all people – we believe in playing by the rules and being open and fair,” said Mr Hosking, who grows barley in northern Victoria.

“And we feel China’s actions at the moment are something much bigger than barley. We stand behind our growers; we reject the notion completely there has been any form of dumping.”

Australian government sources insist any move to take the matter to the WTO would be no different to previous referrals such as its sugar dispute with India.

But it could take years for the WTO to work through the dispute, and many barley growers are planning to plant new crops such as canola and wheat.

Grain Trade Australia chief executive Pat O’Shannassy said there were a “range of views” within the industry, but there was a “general recognition” that Australia’s diplomatic dispute with China had been mixed up with trade.

“Sometimes formal dispute recognition processes are useful, and it may be a way of engaging more formally and without the political issues involved,” he said.

“China is a member of the WTO and utilises the WTO itself – it’s all part of the process.”

After China confirmed in May that it would impose a tariff of 80.5 per cent on Australia’s barley exports following the conclusion of its anti-dumping investigations, Australia appealed against the decision through China’s internal processes, but it was upheld.

Beijing’s tariff on barley was followed by a number of other trade strikes on Australian beef, timber and now wine in a diplomatic row that threatens to affect $20 billion worth of exports across industries.

While Beijing started the anti-dumping process on Australian barley two years ago, it has ramped up pressure on the Morrison government this year. Diplomatic disputes over China’s coronavirus response, human rights breaches and territorial expansion culminated in recent weeks when the Chinese embassy issued a list of 14 grievances with Australia to Nine News, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Senator Birmingham directly linked Beijing’s list of grievances with the trade dispute and said “that’s not the way our embassy in Beijing operates”.

“There’s a cumulative effect dating back over quite a period of time – indeed, going potentially all the way back a couple of years ago, when China instigated its investigation into the barley industry that led to anti-dumping duties being applied there, and a range of other adverse decisions,” he told the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday.

“So I can truly understand why the perception is growing, particularly off the back of the remarks that China’s ambassador made in Australia earlier this year, that there are other factors driving this beyond those claims of dumping, or the like, that China makes.”

Senator Birmingham confirmed that the government was talking with the industry about taking Beijing to the WTO, saying: “I expect that is the process we will go through.”


He said there were “differing opinions” from the industry, “but on the whole, Australia stands by the rules-based system for international trade, and if you stand by the rules-based system, you should also use that rules-based system, which includes calling out when you think the rules have been broken, and calling in the international umpire to help resolve those disputes”.

“We are engaging there with the grains industry and other sectors to make sure we have strong industry buy-in.”

Labor frontbencher Jason Clare on Sunday said “China should pick up the phone” to Australian ministers and “we shouldn’t be conflating trade and politics, but I’m not letting the government off the hook here either”.

“I support action being taken by the government to take this to the WTO, that’s what the WTO is for, but it really shouldn’t have come to this,” he said.

Australia has made a number of decisions in recent years that have upset Beijing, including enacting laws to counter foreign interference, banning Chinese telco Huawei from next-generation networks, and calling for an independent global inquiry into the coronavirus.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said on Sunday the perception was growing that China was initiating the trade disputes because of Australia’s “sovereign actions”.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud wants China to debunk the perception that its trade sanctions are a result of grievances over sovereign Australian actions.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud wants China to debunk the perception that its trade sanctions are a result of grievances over sovereign Australian actions.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“We took it on face value, the actions China implemented against barley, timber, and now wine. But subsequently, they’ve made statements, assertions and grievances around some of the actions – sovereign actions of our country,” Mr Littleproud told Sky News.

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