According to an August 15, report by Natalie Wang of the reliable Hong Kong-based Vino Joy News, on August 15 China appeared to have closed its doors to all imports from both Australia and New Zealand.
The announcement which stated that no customs clearance would be given to any goods from either country, was, Wang said, made in a post on the social media platform WeChat by China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing, citing moves to scrap ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) cooperation deals as being “damaging for mutual trust”. Among the highest profile of these was the decision in April 2021 by the Australian federal government to cancel a major initiative by the state of Victoria
Confusingly however, as Wang noted, the WeChat post had been ‘deleted by the author’ and, while the Food Ingredients Supply Chain Association posted that its 500 members had been told not to handle goods from these countries, there was no confirmation far from China’s Customs Administration. Some veracity was given to the story by an online post by World Meat Imports Report, a Chinese publication, that foot-and-mouth disease lay behind a ban on Australian and New Zealand beef.
Officials in both Australia and New Zealand moved quickly to quash the rumours and to confirm that trade was operating normally, but it is impossible to ignore the febrile atmosphere in the region.
First Australia, then New Zealand
Tension between China and Australia has received widespread coverage following the imposition of harsh sanctions by Beijing on wine and other goods in retaliation against the alleged dumping of Australian products. The squabble with New Zealand is more recent.
In June, the Chinese ambassador, Wang Xialong, warned the New Zealand government that its support of Australia and the US over issues such as Hong Kong, and the Xinjiang province, the South China Sea and Taiwan would have severe consequences.
Undermining New Zealand Wine Industry Hopes
New Zealand’s wine industry has been far less dependent on China than Australia’s, but nearly a third of the country’s total exports are shipped there. Last year, sales of these – mainly agricultural – products were worth nearly $23bn. However, New Zealand’s industry has had reasons to feel optimistic about its prospects. According to China Customs, its members shipped US$1,055,790 worth of wine in the first two months of 2022, compared to US$405,291 over the same period in 2021. New Zealand was the eighth biggest exporter, behind South Africa and Georgia and ahead of Germany and Portugal.
Despite the collapse of its wine exports, Australia shipped nearly $165bn worth of goods to China in 2021, over 40% more than the previous year. China remains its biggest export market.
The blockade of Australian goods – if confirmed – comes just weeks after a G20 meeting between China’s Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Wang Yi, and her Australian counterpart Penny Wong, in what the latter described as a “first step towards stabilising the relationship”.
Perhaps more significant, was the statement by Australia’s newly elected premier, Anthony Albanese, that his country “doesn’t respond to demands”, after China offered a list of ways to improve relations that included ‘regarding China as a partner rather than a rival.’
Outsiders have seen New Zealander’s prime minister, Jacinda Adern, as much less confrontational to China than Albanese’s predecessor, Scott Morrison in Australia. In a foreign policy speech in July, she described the world as “messy” and said that it was wrong to assume that China would follow Russia’s example in applying unprovoked aggression in its own region. Efforts had to be taken, she continued, to prevent it from becoming “increasingly divided and polarised”.
The latest reports, if confirmed, suggest that Beijing may not have been listening.
This report was edited and updated during the week, thanks to further reporting by Vino Joy News