Chinese customs officials have increased screening of imported Australian wheat and barley amid increasing tensions between the two countries.
Australia’s agriculture minister, David Littleproud, confirmed that the General Administration of Customs China had issued a notice on 31 August to its officers “outlining heightened inspection of imports of Australian wheat and barley”. The notice made reference to incidents of non-compliances relating to barley.
Littleproud played down the significance of the move in a statement overnight:
“It is not uncommon for China to issue these types of notices. I understand that there have been sales of wheat to China but the department will only be able to confirm the number of shipments when exporters have applied for relevant export certification.”
Littleproud said there had been no non-compliance notices issued for Australian imports of wheat since before 2018.
Beijing’s decision to increase scrutiny of Australian wheat and barley was made around the same time it suspended a Western Australia-based grains exporter, CBH, over the alleged discovery of “quarantine pests” in recent shipments to China.
CBH vowed to fight that suspension but Chinese state media aired claims that the souring of the diplomatic relationship had “destroyed the atmosphere for dialogue”.
China had already introduced steep tariffs on all Australian barley exports to China from May onwards, which made the trade uneconomic. Beijing has also suspended import permits for some beef processing plants and launched a trade investigation into Australian wine.