Australia is looking into delays in table grape exports to China, with Trade Minister Dan Tehan saying about 20 per cent of fruit shipped to the mainland is stuck at the border in yet another sign of deteriorating relations.
“We’re trying to work out what is the cause of the hold-up,” Tehan told the Australian Broadcasting Corp in an interview published on Thursday.
“I’ve been in discussions with the industry around what they’re seeing and what they’re hearing and we also have our post talking to Chinese officials about this.”
Bilateral ties have sunk to their lowest point in decades after Prime Minister Scott Morrison led calls for a global inquiry into the origins of Covid-19, angering China which has since restricted imports of Australian products such as barley, cotton, wine and lobsters.
China was Australia’s largest customer for table grapes last year, taking about 60,000 tonnes worth around A$240 million ($186 million), or about 40 per cent of total exports.
Reuters reported last month that shipments of Australian table grapes were struggling to enter Chinese ports, leaving some exporters thousands of dollars out of pocket.
Australian grape exporters said the majority of custom delays were across southern Chinese ports, most notably the Port of Shenzhen.
“About 80 per cent of table grape exports seem to have got in seamlessly. It seems to be the last 20 per cent where there are some issues,” Tehan said.
“We don’t want to jump to any conclusions,” he added, when asked if table grapes were the latest target of the trade spat.
“We’re trying to work through all of this and we’ll keep assessing it,” Tehan added.
Despite the row, the value of Australia’s overall exports to China has held up due to strong prices for iron ore, its single biggest trade item. In the 12 months to March, Australia exported A$149 billion ($116 billion) of goods to China.
- Reporting by Colin Packham; additional reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Richard Pullin, of Reuters.