The federal Trade Minister says the government is trying to understand why China has delayed importing table grapes at a cost the Australian industry estimates to be worth millions of dollars a week.
- Table grape growers say they’ve lost millions of dollars because of delays at Chinese ports
- The government says it is working with the industry to understand the cause of the delays
- It has been one year since China kicked off the trade war by imposing hefty tariffs on Australian barley
Dan Tehan says he “won’t jump to any conclusions” about the possibility that the $300 million a year table grape trade to China is the latest casualty in the trade war with the superpower.
In the past year China has wiped billions of dollars of Australian exports including barley, red wine, meat, seafood, timber, cotton and coal.
Now, Australian growers say containers of fresh table grapes that would normally clear China’s customs authorities in one or two days have been delayed by up to 20 days, sometimes without refrigeration.
Mr Tehan told the ABC the government had asked Australian exporters to keep him informed about what they’re hearing from Chinese customers.
“About 80 per cent of table grape exports seem to have got in seamlessly,” he said.
“It seems to be the last 20 per cent where there are some issues.
“We’re trying to work out what is the cause of the hold-up.”
Grapes of rot
The Australian Table Grape Association (ATGA) estimates the delays, which began six weeks ago, could cost growers and exporters up to $40,000 per container.
Typically during the April and May peak Australia would send as many as 300 containers of table grapes a week to China, but the ABC understands as few as 125 containers per week have “landed” in China this year.
“The whole industry is very concerned because the delays are causing huge losses to table grape growers and exporters,” ATGA chief executive Jeff Scott said
“There’s been no rejections of any consignment to date that we’re aware of — so all containers are getting cleared, but they’re getting cleared at lengthy delays.”
Mr Scott said if delayed containers were not powered the temperature could cause the fruit to deteriorate and reduce its value.
“If the fruit has been off power, then they will not pay the premium they would normally pay,” he said.
China is the most lucrative market for Australian table grapes and accounts for more than 40 per cent of all table grape exports.
Decision on wine appeal expected
While the government seeks answers on the grape delays, it is considering launching an appeal to the World Trade Organization over the disruption to Australia’s wine trade.
“I would assume we’ll be in a position to decide what we’re going to do next in the coming weeks,” Mr Tehan has told the ABC.
More than $1 billion worth of export trade ground to a halt last year when China imposed tariffs on Australian wine amid claims of anti-competitive behaviour.
This week marks one year since China imposed crippling tariffs on Australian barley, also over claims of anti-competitive behaviour.
Last year Australia announced it would appeal the tariffs at the World Trade Organization.
Reflecting on the trade relationship with China this week, National Farmers’ Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said he looked forward to a long and mutually beneficial trading relationship continuing.
“There remains high demand from China for many Australian farm products,” he said.