Blockchain to nurture China-Australia trade ties
Australia’s political attack on China risks damaging economic ties
Published: May 06, 2020 05:43 PM

People walk by a sign of Blockchain Summit during the Mobile World Congress Shanghai 2019 in June. Photo: IC

Despite recent efforts by Australian businesspeople to forge closer ties with China to cushion the Australian economy from the fallout of the global pandemic, Canberra's recent posturing by hyping up a coronavirus conspiracy against China will backfire, seriously damaging its relations with China, industry observers said.

As Australia's exports of wine, agricultural produce, iron ore and mines - as well as its tourism and education industries - are heavily dependent on Chinese economy, fraying ties with China could mean billions of dollars in losses for Australia, which has been pummeled by the deadly virus. 

Chinese blockchain start-up VeChain and Mastercard  are reportedly joining a blockchain-backed China-Australia supply chain tracking platform APAC (Asia-Pacific) Provenance Council. The consortium, which includes Australian food companies, packaging and labeling service providers, focuses on the $76 billion of exports from Australia to China. 

Using blockchain technology, the platform is able to authenticate and track the exports of food and wine, according to a statement VeChain sent to the Global Times on Wednesday. The company reportedly supports trade financing, while VeChain provides technological support. 

Industry insiders expect the partnership of the two ventures could accelerate Australia's exports to China amid stringent measures for epidemic prevention around the world. Every involved party- Australian farmers, trading agencies, customs clearing officials and logistics networks - will receive live updates on the exports' movements, reducing communications costs.

 "For companies that face a capital crunch due to the pandemic, it will speed up their cash flow. Payments are immediately made as goods move along the supply chain," Wang Peng, assistant professor of GaoLing School of Artificial Intelligence at Renmin University, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

Chinese consumers will be able to examine the origin of Australian foods by accessing data shared on the public blockchain platform, he added. 

Observers said that the blockchain-backed supply chain represents both the long-term strategic investment and short-term interests of Australian companies against the backdrop of global pandemic. 

"Australia businessmen now pin their hopes on China, which has been steadily restarting its economy while the rest of the world still faces an uphill battle against COVID-19. China's demand for bulk commodities is huge, making it hard for Australia to find a replacement market," Yu Lei, a chief research fellow at the Research Center for Pacific Island Countries, Liaocheng University, told the Global Times.

Although Australian companies want to strengthen their trade and economic ties, the malicious attack from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on China has complicated such efforts.

Morrison has made a series of calls recently to US President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, appealing for their support for Australia's "independent probe" into the novel coronavirus. Such calls have triggered a tsunami of anger among Chinese consumers, who criticized Morrison's move as risking losing the whole Chinese market. Some even called for a boycott of Australian goods.

A manager of wine importer based in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province surnamed Fang told the Global Times that although wine sales have been picking up after the epidemic ebbed in China, the sales of some French wines "are growing faster than" Australian wines. 

Last year, Australian wine was the top-selling category in Fang's store, after tariffs on Australian wines were reduced to zero as part of a bilateral free trade agreement. 

In addition to wines, China is also Australia's biggest export market and largest trading partner. In 2019, Australia's exports to China reached $175 billion, including $157 billion in goods and $18 billion in services. The number accounted for 37.5 percent of the country's total export value and 9.3 percent of its GDP. 

"Australia really needs to weigh the cost of diplomatic dependence on the US. Otherwise, the gains from closer ties with China will never materialize for Canberra," Yu said.