Australasia's home for timber news and information

Timber ban by China still unconfirmed; Biden may hold an answer for the future

US President Elect Joe Biden

Reports of a ban by China on imports of Australian timber as well as lobster, copper, sugar, wine and coal mooted last week and set to begin on Saturday seems to have so far done little more than create anxiety and rumours among exposed businesses. Source: Timberbiz

There were no immediate signs of an escalation of customs issues over the weekend, but there have been hold-ups of wine, lobsters and coal in recent weeks, and all timber from Queensland has been banned due to contamination issues.

It has been suggested that much of the timber exported to China is salvaged timber which can be prone to infestation by insects.

The Australian Forests Product Association last week indicated it was aware of the situation with logs from Queensland and was working with the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment to obtain more details from Chinese officials.

The AFPA had nothing to add today.

The Global Times – a daily newspaper under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper – hinted on Sunday that China’s relationships with the United States and therefore Australia as well may improve with the election of President-elect Joe Biden at the weekend.

“It is no secret that Australia has been under US influence for a long time, and the US has played a role in a series of political confrontations between China and Australia,” the Global Times said.

The newspaper said that is was now generally expected the new administration’s China policy could face an adjustment “compared with the Donald Trump era”, meaning that US-China friction over a range of political and economic issues could ease because of the different administration styles.

“So, when the US-China relationship is about to see some changes, there may be also a window for adjustment to the bilateral relationship between China and Australia,” the newspaper said.

Businesses involved in the $149bn export trade to China are urging the Federal Government to find a “circuit breaker” to mend relations with Australia’s biggest trading partner.

David Olsson, chairman of the Australia China Business Council, said the government should better use the business community to help find a “circuit breaker for the current impasse”.

“Our connections and networks have been built at individual and institutional levels over many decades and carry weight and influence, but have not been properly leveraged to date,” said Mr Olsson, the Hong Kong-based international director at law firm King & Wood Mallesons. “Now is the time to do that.”

The comments were made at a closed briefing with Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, Australia’s China ambassador Graham Fletcher and Australia China Business Council members, on Friday, hours before a mooted, sweeping ban on Australian exports to China was said to be imposed.

Chinese officials first denied last week’s reports on the sweeping ban as “rumours”, then said the “reduction in imports of the pertinent Australian products was the companies’ own decision” and on Friday said the country’s policies on foreign imports were “reasonable, legitimate and thus beyond reproach”.

At the Friday briefing, Mr Olsson said the episode demonstrated “the harsh realities of trading with China”.

“Geoeconomics 101 is now essential reading for all directors and business owners,” he said.

But he called on the government to “work collaboratively together (with business) to formulate a realistic new China policy that addresses both the opportunities and the challenges that China presents”.

Despite the fears about the trade deterioration, many of the more than 180 Australian companies with stalls at China’s biggest annual trade show said things had gone well.

AustCham Shanghai’s executive director Bede Payne said a significant number of his members attending the trade fair, which began last week in Shanghai, had signed contracts and memorandums of understanding, and had a large number of client leads.

“Consumer demand for clean, green and safe Australian products doesn’t seem to have been damaged,” he said. The backbone of Australia’s $149bn China exports continued untroubled.

A supervisor at Tianjin Port, the biggest in the north of China, which sits 170km southeast of Beijing, told The Australian: “I can tell you that iron ore is arriving as usual from Australia.”