Chinese state-owned media appears to have confirmed that Australia has been excluded from a list of countries no longer subject to clearance restrictions when importing coal.
The news comes amid reports there are 66 ships anchored off Chinese ports with more than $500 million worth of Australian coal.
The vessels are said to have been prevented from docking and unloading their cargo since September. The Global Times news report, sanctioned by the Chinese government, appears to confirm why.
In a move designed to stop steelmakers and power plants from accepting Australian coal, China will throw open its doors to other suppliers, including Mongolia, Indonesia and Russia.
It follows a meeting of China’s National Development and Reform Commission and will allow coal imports without clearance restrictions for those other countries, but not Australia, the report said.
Chinese authorities had originally blamed “environmental quality” problems for refusing to accept coal from dozens of Australian bulk carriers that have spent months stranded at sea.
Through China’s state-run media, Beijing has for the first time signalled – although indirectly – an end to Australia’s role as a major coal supplier to China.
Wang Yongzhong, director of the Institute of Energy and Economy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, is quoted by The Global Times as saying “Australia is gradually losing the Chinese market”.
He said coal from Mongolia, Indonesia and Russia “could take a large share from Australian coal, as the relationship between China and Australia has been deteriorating”.
Australia’s Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said if The Global Times article did reflect the views of the Chinese government, it “would appear to be the use of discriminatory practices against Australian coal”.
“We reiterate that all terms of our free trade agreement and world trade obligations between Australia and China should be upheld and respected,” he told the ABC.
It’s feared the Australian economy could miss out on billions of dollars due to the apparent ban on coal.
It’s the latest crackdown by China on Australian goods, which has already hit consumables including beef, wine, barley and seafood, plus timber.
Australian exporters heavily reliant on China have been brought to their knees by deteriorating trade ties.
China is Australia’s most valuable export partner and in recent years has taken the majority of coal leaving Aussie shores, in an industry worth more than $10 billion a year.
There are suspicions the trade tensions have grown from China’s grievance list spanning Australia’s foreign investment rules, banning Huawei from the 5G network and the push for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.