Australian PM says China coal ban would breach WTO rules

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s prime minister said Tuesday that China would be in breach of World Trade Organization rules as well as a bilateral free trade agreement if it banned Australian coal.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was responding to a report in the Chinese state-owned Global Times newspaper that the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission had given power plants approval to import coal without restrictions except for Australian coal.

Morrison said he was treating the report as “media speculation” because the Chinese government had yet to clarify its position.

“If that were the case, then that would obviously be in breach of WTO rules,” Morrison told reporters. “It would be obviously in breach of our on free trade agreement and so we would hope that’s certainly not the case."

Coal and iron ore are Australia’s most lucrative exports. But Australian exports appear to have suffered due to deteriorating bilateral relations since Australia called for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said Australia was close to finalizing a complaint to the World Trade Organization over Chinese tariffs imposed on barley.

“We see these reports and obviously are deeply troubled by them,” Birmingham told Australian Broadcasting Corp. referring to the reported coal import ban.

“They, if true, would indicate discriminatory trade practices being deployed by Chinese authorities and we would urge them to rule that out swiftly,” he added.

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