China denies Australian wine delays

The Chinese Foreign Ministry denied delaying wine imports from Australia’s biggest wine company Treasury Wine Estates into China as relations between the two countries are getting increasingly strained over Australia’s growing concerns over Chinese interference in local politics.

China’s foreign minister Wang Yi met with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop this week as tensions between the two countries remain strained over fears of growing Chinese interference in Australia’s local politics. (Photo source: Foreign Ministry of China)

“According to what we know of the situation, it can be said that the Chinese customs and relevant import inspection and quarantine departments are handling the relevant entry applications according to normal procedures,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Lu Kang, at a daily press briefing.

This comes after TWE, the parent company of the popular Penfolds brand, revealed last week that its wine imports destined to mainland China are experiencing delays at customs, which seemed to be targeting only Australian wines, and to Australian exporters operating ‘warehouse models’, the company said.

Despite the denial from the Foreign Ministry, Wang Yi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, urged Australia to “take off the coloured glasses” in order to set the two countries’ relations back on track after a meeting with his counterpart Julie Bishop on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Argentina this week.

The two countries’ relations have been on the rocks since last year when Canberra proposed anti-foreign interference laws, following reports of Chinese interference in local politics.

China’s hawkish official newspaper Global Times called for a much tougher response in an editorial this week to “teach Australia a lesson” by cutting back on China’s Australian imports by as much as US$10 billion.

The editorial argued that though imports such as metals and minerals from Australia are hard to replace, “wine and beef are very replaceable” and can be imported from the US instead – a country that China’s is currently engaged in intense trade spats as well.

China is Australia’s most valuable export market. In the past 12 months to March this year, Australia’s wine exports to China including Hong Kong and Macau totalled AU$1.04 billion (US$808.4 million), accounting for almost half of Australia’s overall AU$2.65 billion (US$2.06 billion) worth of exports, according to Wine Australia. This is largely thanks to the bilateral Free Trade Agreement that will eventually eliminate all import tariffs on Australian wines next year.

Meanwhile, China has become the No. 1 source for tourists in Australia. In the year leading up to February this year, about 1.4 million Chinese tourists visited Australia, outnumbering New Zealand for the first time, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

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