12/16/2020, 16.00
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Trade war with Beijing: Canberra calls for WTO intervention

Arbitration by the World Trade Organisation arbitration would centre on China’s 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley. China is angry over Australia’s call for an international investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic. China also wants to prevent the emergence of an Indo-Pacific NATO formed by Australia, United States, Japan, and India.

Canberra (AsiaNews) – The Australian government has requested the intervention of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to resolve its tariff dispute with China, Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham announced today.

According to Birmingham, Chinese tariffs violate international trade rules, noting that the WTO arbitration will concern the 80 per cent duties imposed by China on Australian barley. It should be noted that in 2018 Beijing asked WTO to intervene to end the trade war unleashed by the United States.

China is targeting Australian exports, including a ban on Australian coal, the Global Times, a daily paper linked to the Communist Party of China, reported. In late November, Beijing imposed a duty of up to 212 per cent on Australian wine.

Chinese authorities say the measure is temporary, and was taken to stop Canberra's subsidies to the industry. In recent months, the Chinese have also applied trade tariffs to Australian exports of sugar, timber, cotton, meat and lobster.

Relations between the two governments have deteriorated in recent years. Australians are concerned about China's growing military activism in the South China Sea, and were among the first to join the Washington-sponsored boycott of Huawei. Two years ago, Canberra also introduced rules limiting foreign (Chinese) interference in its internal affairs.

The level of confrontation reached worrying levels in April after the Australian government joined other countries in calling for an international investigation into the origin of COVID-19 and China’s handling of the pandemic.

The recent participation of the Australian Navy, after a 13-year break, in the Malabar naval exercises with India, the United States, and Japan has also exacerbated tensions.

Beijing is concerned that the informal Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) forum might morph into military cooperation between the four countries, some kind of Indo-Pacific NATO.

For several observers, China views Australia as the weak link in this possible "quasi-alliance" between the four democracies of the region.

Trade between the two countries is worth around US$ 171 billion. China buys about 40 per cent of Australia’s merchandise exports, including around 70 per cent of Australian barley.

Due to their country’s economic dependence on Beijing, Australians are vulnerable to Chinese reprisals.

According to some experts, by picking on Australia Beijing is serving notice to all those countries that might want to challenge China's policies and actions.

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