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Australia Braces for Coal Export Ban as Relations With China Plummet 

FILE - An empty coal train sits on the tracks at the Port of Brisbane, Jan. 15, 2011.
FILE - An empty coal train sits on the tracks at the Port of Brisbane, Jan. 15, 2011.

Australia is calling for China to clarify reports in a state-owned media outlet that it has banned imports of Australian coal. Rising political disagreements between the two trading partners coincide with a range of tariffs and restrictions Beijing has imposed on Australian agricultural exports.

A ban on coal exports to China would cost Australia billions of dollars and further inflame tensions between the two countries.

The Global Times newspaper said a new policy would shut Australia out of China’s lucrative trade in coal. The publication, which is considered to be sanctioned by the Chinese government, reported the move would stabilize coal prices.

China has unofficially banned Australian coal imports since October because shipments have allegedly been of inferior quality, and officials in Canberra are scrambling to establish if the Global Times reports are accurate.

Last year, China bought $10.5 billion worth of Australian coal.

There has been no formal announcement from Beijing about any ban, but Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is calling on China to uphold its trading obligations.

“We see these reports and obviously are again deeply troubled by them. They, if true, would indicate discriminatory trade practices being deployed by Chinese authorities and we would urge them to rule that out swiftly, and demonstrate that they are continuing to operate in a manner consistent with the type of market principles they committed to as part of their membership of the World Trade Organization and through their free trade agreement,” Birmingham said.

China is by far Australia’s most important trading partner, buying about 40 percent of the goods it exports.

Political disagreements in recent years have turned a cordial relationship increasingly bitter. Australia’s decision to ban Chinese tech giant Huawei from its 5G telecommunications network because of national security concerns prompted anger in China, as did Canberra’s allegations of political interference and cyber-espionage.

Australia’s criticism of China’s handling of COVID-19 also infuriated the Chinese leadership, and there have been disagreements about Beijing’s human rights record, its military expansion in the South China Sea and democracy in Hong Kong. Experts believe Australia is being pressured by China to alter its foreign policy.

Diplomatic unease has coincided with a range of tariffs and restrictions on Australian agricultural exports worth billions of dollars.

China has accused Australia of dumping grain and wine on the Chinese market and unfairly subsidizing its farmers. Canberra is considering taking its grievances to the World Trade Organization.

The Global Times also published an opinion piece that labelled Australia an “anti-China pioneer” with a “sense of anxiety” about being invaded.