Australia calls for China to ease trade tensions

Australia is urging China to respond to its requests to discuss easing tensions between the two trading partners after Canberra called for an international enquiry into the origins of the novel coronavirus, Reuters reports.

China has recently suspended beef imports from four of Australia’s largest meat processors and is said to be considering imposing tariffs on imports of barley.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has requested discussions on the trade issues with his Chinese counterpart, he said in a television interview on the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) on Sunday.

“That request has not been met with a call being accommodated at this stage,” he said on the ABC’s ‘Insiders’ programme. “We are open to have that discussion, even where there are difficult issues to be discussed.”

Birmingham said Australia reserved its rights to bring a case against China at the World Trade Organisation if Beijing imposed tariffs on Australian barley.

Relations between Canberra and Beijing have become increasingly strained amid Australian accusations of China meddling in its' domestic affairs and concerns about what Australia sees as China’s growing influence in the Pacific region.

The call for the probe into the coronavirus’ origins came amid rising criticism of China’s handling of the outbreak by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said that Beijing should face consequences if it was “knowingly responsible” for the pandemic.

Australia is set to join other countries in pushing for the probe when the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organisation, gathers next week in Switzerland for its first annual meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The pandemic has caused more than 4.6 million infections and more than 310,000 deaths worldwide, according to Worldometers, at the time of writing.

Australia has so far succeeded in containing the pandemic with swift and strict social distancing measures and aggressive testing.

The country, with a population of 25 million, has recorded 7,036 COVID-19 cases and 98 deaths, significantly below the levels reported in North America and Europe. As of Saturday, the government has reported testing more than 1 million people for the virus, and has begun easing social distancing restrictions.

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