More than 50 ships laden with Australian coal are still stranded off China after ports were told by Beijing in October not to offload such shipments.
Australia’s Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says he is “deeply troubled” by reports that China has now officially banned imports of Australian coal, in the latest sign the dispute between the nations is getting worse.
On Saturday, the National Development and Reform Commission gave power plants approval to import coal without restrictions, except from Australia, the Global Times reports.
If true that would “indicate discriminatory trade practices”, Birmingham told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio on Tuesday.
“The risk profile of trading with China has grown significantly during the course of this year. We have seen a pattern of disruption in relation to Australian trade with China generally,” Birmingham said.
“It is well documented that a number of vessels have been delayed in terms of offloading Australian coal into China for a considerable period of time.”
Relations have been fraught since 2018 when Canberra barred Huawei Technologies Co from building its 5G network on national security grounds.
Then after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government called for an international inquiry into the origins of Covid-19 earlier this year, Beijing went off the deep end, accusing Canberra of being a puppet of the US and of meddling in its internal affairs.
It has hit Australian barley and wine with crippling tariffs and told Chinese traders to stop buying commodities including copper, sugar, timber and lobster.
The cordial relationship that saw Australia host a state visit by President Xi Jinping in 2014 and sign a comprehensive free-trade agreement a year later is currently on hold, with no obvious way out of the downward spiral in relations between the two key trading partners.