China has suggested almost $700 million worth of Australian coal is being held up at ports due to “environmental quality” problems.
- It is the first time Chinese authorities have suggested a reason for the delays to unload ships
- Coal is one of seven Australian imported products targeted with bans by China
- But China denies it is levying coordinated trade action against Australia
For months, dozens of bulk carriers have been stranded off the coast of two major Chinese ports unable to unload their cargoes, with a Bloomberg estimate of more than 60 ships now in limbo in November.
Chinese authorities have not previously explained the exact reasons for the long delays, which have coincided with a series of restrictions and bans Beijing has imposed on other Australian exports amid diplomatic tensions.
But in answer to a question on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has for the first time suggested quality problems are to blame.
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“In recent years, China Customs has conducted risk monitoring and analysis on the safety and quality of imported coal and discovered imported coal not meeting environmental standards is relatively common,” he said.
China has unofficially banned Australian coal imports since October amid souring relations between the two countries, and in turn, increased imports from Mongolia and Russia.
Mr Zhao said China had strengthened the examination and testing of imported coal regarding safety, quality and environmental standards “so as to better protect the legitimate interests and the environmental interests of the Chinese side”.
Coal is one of seven Australian imported products that have reportedly been targeted with bans by China amid rising tensions.
Earlier this month, multiple Australian exporters said that their Chinese business partners had been informally instructed by Commerce ministry officials to stop buying seven types of Australian exports, including coal.
But many of the bulk carriers sitting off the Chinese ports arrived with their Australian cargo prior to those instructions being given.
China’s Government has stopped short of directly linking the various trade measures with its anger at Australia but has made little effort to dispel the widely-held view that its retaliation for a series of Australian moves Beijing objects to, including a public call for a coronavirus inquiry.
The Federal Government last week said the reports were “deeply troubling” but China has denied it is levying coordinated trade action against Australia.
China accounts for about one-third of Australia’s total exports.
The stalled shipments account for about a quarter of all imports waiting to pass customs clearance in China.
China’s coking coal imports from Australia slumped in October to 1.53 million tonnes, or about 26 per cent of its total imports of the fuel, customs data showed, down from 78 per cent in March.
Despite the bans, Australia remains China’s top seaborne coal supplier in 2020, as Mongolia was forced to trim exports in the first half of the year due to the coronavirus outbreak.