China should finish its investigation into whether Australian barley suppliers dumped cheap imports into the country within months, in line with global trade rules, Australia’s Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham said on Wednesday.
The Chinese probe, widely considered politically motivated, has shaken barley trading between the two countries, with traders hesitant of booking new shipments when tariffs could be imposed. Australia is China’s top supplier of barley, which is used both in brewing and livestock feed.
Australian exporters deny the allegations, and seeking to end the uncertainty Birmingham said the probe should be completed in line with international guidelines.
"The Australian government has expressed our desire to see this investigation concluded in accordance with proper processes," Birmingham told reporters in Shanghai.
"When this investigation is concluded there will be no basis upon which to find any improper activity by the Australian industry."
China began the investigation in November 2018. World Trade Organisation rules state anti-dumping probes should be completed within one year, though investigators have an option of an additional six months.
The timetable for the investigation will test the state of the Australia-China relationship, which has deteriorated in recent years amid allegations that Beijing has committed cyber-attacks and has attempted to interfere in Canberra’s domestic affairs.
On Sunday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met and both promised to try to improve the relationship, worth more than Aus$180bn ($124.15bn) in two-way trade last year.
Australia can ill afford for tensions to weigh on bilateral trade.
Australia’s economy has slowed in recent months, increasing the country’s reliance on China, which dominates the purchase of Australian iron ore, coal and agricultural goods. It buys more than one-third of the country’s total exports and sends more than am tourists and students there each year.
Australia exported 6.48m tonnes of barley to China in 2017, worth about $1.5bn and close to three-quarters of the 8.86m tonnes of barley that Chinese importers took in that year, Chinese customs data shows.