Australia to seek WTO intervention in barley row with China

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia will ask the World Trade Organization to intervene in its dispute with China over barley and expects other nations to become involved in the case, Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said today.

China effectively ended imports of Australian barley in May by putting tariffs of more than 80% on the crop, accusing Australia of breaching WTO rules by subsidizing barley production and selling the grain in China at below production cost.

Birmingham said Australia would formally ask the WTO to intervene today.

“WTO dispute resolution processes are not perfect and they take longer than would be ideal, but ultimately, it is the right avenue for Australia to take at this point,” Birmingham told reporters.

“It’s quite common for other countries to become third parties to proceedings in the WTO. Australia has done so on many occasions, China has done so on many occasions, and I would anticipate that others would do so on this occasion,” he added.

China has been the largest market for Australian barley growers. The grain is among a growing number of commodities that China has targeted as bilateral relations plumb new depths.

Trade in Australian seafood, wood, beef and wine has also been disrupted since Australia angered China by requesting an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia is seeking clarification of recent Chinese state media reports that Australian coal imports have been banned.

Birmingham said China had “accumulated a series of decisions that look like sanctions against Australia.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin declined to say whether China’s trade actions were a form of retaliation, but said Australia must drop what he called a bias against Chinese companies.

“What I want to stress is that the Australian government should take seriously China’s concerns and take concrete acts to correct its discriminatory behaviors targeting Chinese enterprises,” Wang said at a daily briefing on Wednesday.