China suspends barley imports from Australia’s CBH amid souring relations
Published: Sep 01, 2020 07:36 PM

A farmer harvests highland barley in Gyangze County of Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, Aug. 29, 2020. Local farmers are now busy in the fields in the harvest season of highland barley. (Xinhua/Sun Fei)

China on Tuesday suspended barley imports from CBH Group, an Australian company, after repeatedly finding quarantine pests in imported products and withdrew its permit to export to China, according to China's General Administration of Customs(GAC). 

"The GAC's move is a normal operation in dealing with a trade dispute, especially when it comes to food security," Li Guoxiang, a research fellow in the agricultural sector at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

But Li noted that the suspension at this time is also a sign of deteriorating ties between the two countries as there could be other, gentler ways such as talks to solve this kind of issue.

Since April, actions by each side — including China's move to impose tariffs of more than 80 percent on Australian barley as a result of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations that began in 2018 and Canberra's move to oppose Chinese dairy company Mengniu's acquisitions in Australia — have been widely perceived as signs of escalation.

"Normally, when quarantine pests such as Avena ludoviciana were found, the two sides could resolve the problem through talks," Li said. 

"For example, the importer can ask the exporter to remove the pests before entering any ports through the mechanism of trade talks. But souring bilateral ties have destroyed the atmosphere for dialogue. So to protect China's interests, the authority had to make such a decision," Li said.

The suspension could deal a blow to Australia's barley exports to China, which is the destination of about 70 percent of all Australian barley exports, according to Australian government data. 

The CBH Group is Australia's largest co-operative and a leader in the country's grain industry, with operations extending along the value chain from grain storage, handling, and transport, to marketing and processing, according to the company's website. Around 3,900 Western Australian grain-growing businesses are owned and controlled by the group. 

According to a report by Citibank, CBH Group exported 950,000 tons of grain to China in April, and the group accounted for 28 percent of the market among all wheat exporters in Australia.

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