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Is China Blocking Australian Coal Imports? Canberra Says No

Coal is unloaded onto large piles at the Ulan Coal mines near the central New South Wales town of Mudgee in Australia, March 8, 2018.
Coal is unloaded onto large piles at the Ulan Coal mines near the central New South Wales town of Mudgee in Australia, March 8, 2018.

Australia is denying reports its coal is being blocked from entering China.

Customs officers at the port of Dalian in China have reportedly stopped Australian shipments. Canberra believes it is a simple issue of import quotas being imposed and is seeking urgent clarification from Chinese authorities.

Government officials in Canberra have moved quickly to dispute that shipments have been suspended by a key port in northern China. They say it has happened before and is part of China’s regulation of imports.

“People should be careful about leaping to conclusions about this,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. “This is not the first time that on occasion local ports make decisions about these matters. This happens from time to time, and we just work constructively with our partners in China about those issues.”

No Beijing confirmation

Beijing has not confirmed the apparent halt of Australian coal shipments to the port of Dalian but called changes in such arrangements “normal.”

News agency Reuters reported Thursday that China’s Dalian port region would not allow Australian coal to pass through customs. It quoted officials who said only Australian coal imports had been affected and there were no restrictions of Russian and Indonesian shipments.

There are concerns that China is using trade to punish Australia over recent diplomatic friction between the two nations. There have been allegations, denied by Beijing, of Chinese interference in Australian politics. Canberra’s decision to ban Chinese firm Huawei from a major telecommunications project has also caused friction.

Recent friction

Chris Bowen from the opposition Labor Party says any restrictions in trade with China could have damaging consequences for Australia.

“This would be, if it came to pass, in relation to other ports in China a very significant and negative economic development for Australia,” Bowen said. “Obviously if it is a result of a deterioration in bilateral relations that is very concerning and we would have more to say about that, but I do not think it is particularly useful for me to speculate in the absence of further evidence.”

The head of the Reserve Bank of Australia has also suggested that China’s desire to protect its domestic coal industry may be behind any suspension of Australian imports.

China is the biggest buyer of Australian coal, taking 89 million tons last year, valued at $10.6 billion.