No warning before Chinese blacklisting of Aussie meat processors
Beijing officials gave no warning before slapping an import ban on four Australian meat processors now stuck in limbo for months amid escalating tensions over China's handling of the pandemic.
The operators were blindsided to learn China had suspended their licences to export with immediate effect on Tuesday, due to technical labelling and certification issues dating back more than a year.
The sudden trade block came just weeks after a warning from the Chinese ambassador to Australia that exports including red meat, wine and education would be targeted if the Morrison government did not end its call for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.
Chinese newspaper the Global Times foreshadowed "economic repercussions" in an editorial published before the licence suspension that accused Australia of "joining in on the China blame game".
The nationalistic paper claimed relations between China and Australia were moving towards their "lowest point in decades".
The ban also followed China's announcement on Sunday it planned to introduce an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley, which would cripple the industry.
The suspended meat processors, NSW Northern Co-operative Meat Company (NCMC), and three Queensland meatworks - Pastoral Company, Beef City and Dinmore - are working with the federal government to resolve issues so they can re-enter the Chinese market.
But NCMC chief executive Simon Stahl told The Daily Telegraph it could be two months before the company can resume exports to China, which accounts for 10 per cent of their business.
Based in Casino in northern NSW, the company employs 900 people and exports red meat to 26 nations.
Mr Stahl said he received a call from his Shanghai office late on Monday afternoon to say there were "murmurings in the market" about problems.
NCMC only learned of the suspension from the Australian Meat Industry Council.
Mr Stahl said NCMC would work through the concerns via the Department of Agriculture, and "didn't want to read between the lines" as to whether politics was behind the ban.
"I will stay out of that," he said.
Mr Stahl said some of the product that would have gone to China can be sent to other countries.
Total NSW beef exports to China were worth $736 million last year.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said it was "disappointing" China did not notify Australia before the suspension came into effect.
"The reason given for this suspension relates to instances dating back over more than a year of minor technical errors in relation to labelling or other technical requirements during this time," he said.
"My expectation is that the technical issues we will find have all been addressed."
Export Council of Australia chair Dianne Tipping said "it's a big concern."