Australian iron could be the latest victim of trade tensions with China after Beijing changed its inspection rules.
Chinese customs officials say the changes taking effect next month are designed to “streamline procedures” at ports.
But state-owned media sources have cast the modifications as a warning to Australia amid rising political tensions.
The Global Times has cautioned Australian iron ore imports could be hurt by the ongoing friction between the two countries.
“This is another implicit warning to Australia,” Yu Lei, a chief research fellow at Liaocheng University, told the newspaper.
“It is associated with how Australia has acted, and a general decline in demand for steel on the global level.”
However, it is understood the changes could in fact speed up the entry of iron ore into China, in line with a commitment made by Chinese President Xi Jinping to further open up his economy.
Australian iron ore is already checked and it is possible fewer batches would be checked under the new arrangements.
“Early indications of talking to the industry are indeed that this would provide an opportunity for benefits both to China and to Australia,” Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said on Thursday.
“We welcome any improvements in administrative arrangements that could streamline the customs clearance of iron ore imports.”
Iron ore is Australia’s largest global export and China is our largest trading partner.
Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Tania Constable echoed Senator Birmingham’s comments, saying Australian iron ore was helping China’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon has urged the government to soothe relations with China, lashing the coalition for demonising Australia’s biggest trading partner.
A deepening diplomatic row has reached fever pitch with Beijing furious about Canberra’s push for a global coronavirus inquiry.
Farmers have suffered a major blow with China slapping an 80 per cent tariff on barley imports and blocking red meat from four Australian abattoirs.
Mr Fitzgibbon claimed the government had mismanaged the relationship.
“We’ve been demonising the Chinese and their system of governance,” the opposition’s agriculture spokesman told Sky News on Thursday.
Mr Fitzgibbon said the former Turnbull government’s changes to foreign investment thresholds discriminated against Chinese investors.
He also criticised the foreign influence register for deliberately targeting China for domestic political gain.
“Now we have our most recent prime minister basically saying things like we should send weapons-style supervisors into China against their will,” he said.
“I have no idea how he thought he was going to achieve that.”
The senior Labor MP said farmers were concerned other commodities could be targeted.
“It’s our largest trading partner and we need to normalise this relationship.”
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Australia was right to stand up to China.
“The values of the communist regime are not compatible with ours so you will have tensions from time to time,” he told 2GB radio.
“We’ll manage those, but we aren’t going to compromise on our values and our beliefs.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has thrown his support behind Australia amid increasingly tough talk from President Donald Trump.
“The Chinese Communist Party chose to threaten Australia with economic retribution for the simple act of asking for an independent inquiry into the origins of the virus. It’s not right,” Mr Pompeo told reporters in Washington.
Bloomberg has reported Chinese officials are considering stricter checks on some Australian seafood, oats and fruit and dairy.
Senator Birmingham challenged China to report it is drawing up a hit list of Australian exports.
“This is an unsourced claim for Chinese authorities to respond to,” he said.
The World Health Assembly has adopted a resolution to establish an independent coronavirus inquiry with the support of 137 nations.