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Friday analysis: Chinese hot pot of rumours, speculation and predictions

Everyone seems to be holding his or her collective breaths right now. There are lots of rumours, little real facts. Lots of speculation and predictions, but no definitive information. This applies to just about everything; the pandemic and the opening of State borders, China’s bans on Australian products, and of course the outcome of the US presidential election. Source: Bruce Mitchell

Because when it comes down to it, no one really knows.

Let’s just stick to the China situation for now; what exactly we do know.

In absolute terms, it’s not much.

Chinese officials are reported to have informally told importers of goods, including timber, that products arriving after today – Friday – will not be cleared by customs.

Chinese officials this week denied the wide-ranging trade ban.

But Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Thursday defended the claims, saying its measures on foreign imports were in line with international customary practices.

And then yesterday The Global Times, a Chinese state-controlled tabloid, appeared to confirm the ban.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said there had been no formal notification of an import suspension, but officials would continue to work with Chinese authorities to get clarification on the issue.

He told 4BC radio that Australia could take Beijing to independent umpire the World Trade Organisation “if we believe we have been wronged”.

Timber Queensland chief executive officer Mick Stephen agreed that log exports from Queensland to China had been suspended on the basis of detections of live insects in consignments.

“We are seeking more details about the specific concerns raised and steps that can be taken to address these quarantine requirements in conjunction with biosecurity authorities,” he said.

A spokesman for the Australian Forest Products Association said on Wednesday the association was aware that Chinese customs authorities have advised the Australian Department of Agriculture that the export of logs from Queensland to China have been suspended on the basis of detections of live quarantine pests in log consignments.

“AFPA is working with the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment to obtain more details from Chinese officials about these incidents and to address any quarantine issues identified.”

That stand has not changed. Certainly not today anyway.

In both cases “more details” are being sought. It is a familiar refrain.

Neither Trade Minister Simon Birmingham nor Agriculture David Littleproud have reportedly had official-level contact with their counterparts in China since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.

The trade limitations are only the latest manifestation of increased Chinese-Australian political tension.

Chinese-Australian relations have been steadily declining since Australia’s 2018 ban on Chinese Huawei Technologies over national security concerns.

More importantly, Beijing has long been troubled by Canberra’s support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and its condemnation of China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims – both of which China sees as part of its trade partner’s overall shift toward the US.

And China has been less than pleased with the Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s push for an international inquiry in the origins of CoVid19.

Senator Birmingham has urged Australian companies dependent on China to broaden their markets to account for “unpredictable administrative decisions that have been made at the Chinese end”.

Mr Littleproud yesterday also encouraged exporters to measure the risk of sending their product to China, adding there was other markets available.

Senior Federal Government officials advised China-exposed businesses to “find other markets” during a crisis phone hook-up on Thursday.

Establishing replacement markets will of course take time, lots of time, and it will not pay the mortgage next month. Or the month after that.

Breaths are still being held; knowledge is still being sought.

As to the opening on State Borders in Australia, and the eventual outcome of the US presidential elections? Well, have a lucky guess.

Everyone else is.