Sydney, Australia, Dec 15 (efe-epa).- The Australian government asked China on Tuesday to uphold its trade obligations amid reports of a potential ban on Australian coal imports by the Asian country, in a new chapter of tensions between both countries.
Australia annually exports more than AU$16 billion ($12 billion) worth of coal to China.
“We reiterate that all terms of our free trade agreement and world trade obligations between Australia and China should be upheld and respected,” Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told reporters in Canberra.
The Australian government’s reaction comes after the Global Times newspaper, linked to the Communist Party of China, reported on Monday that the authorities of the Asian country “gave approval to power plants to import coal without clearance restrictions, except for Australia, in a bid to stabilize coal purchase prices.”
This report, which has not yet been confirmed by the Chinese government, follows reports in Australian media that coal tankers were awaiting permits to dock and unload their cargo at Chinese ports.
Beijing justifies the stalled Australian shipments saying that the coal imports failed to meet environmental standards.
The Australian minister said that if the report published by the Global Times were true, “it would indicate discriminatory trade practices against Australia coal” by China.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that “until we are in a position to have that (ban) clarified then we can only treat this as media speculation.”
Last week, the Australian government accused China of violating trade agreements by imposing tariffs on Australian products such as wine, barley and beef amid diplomatic disputes.
Beijing’s response was that 95 percent of Australian products have zero tariffs.
China and Australia signed a free trade agreement in 2015. But Beijing this year began raising tariffs on some Australian exports after bilateral diplomatic ties deteriorated.
The bilateral tensions worsened when Australia launched an investigation into the origin of Covid-19, believed to be in China, which angered Beijing.
Two years ago, Australia vetoed Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from concessions on their fifth-generation (5G) telecoms network for security reasons.
Australian authorities have approved laws in recent months to limit foreign economic and diplomatic influence in the country without directly citing China.
In the past, Beijing has criticized the interference of countries such as Australia in its policies in Xinjiang, where the persecuted Muslim Uighur minority lives, in Hong Kong and the disputed waters of the South China Sea.
China is Australia’s major trading partner, with a bilateral exchange of AU$235 billion worth of goods in 2018-19, representing an increase of 20.5 percent compared to the previous year. EFE-EPA