Canberra on Tuesday said it was seeking reassurance from Beijing after reports that several Chinese state-owned steelmakers and power plants had been told to stop importing Australian coal.
Trade Minister, Simon Birmingham, told ABC radio that “we don’t have evidence to verify those reports,’’ but the government was seeking a response from Chinese authorities.
He added that on multiple occasions, this year, Australia had sought to have a ministerial dialogue with China but they’ve not been willing to reciprocate.
The reports by industry news services cite several unnamed sources claiming the state-owned mills were given verbal notice to stop importing Australian thermal and coking coal with immediate effect.
It was also reported that state-owned ports were told not to offload shipments.
Relations between China and Australia have become increasingly strained this year after Canberra supported the U.S. calls for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
In recent months, China has placed trade restrictions on Australian wine, beef and barley.
Birmingham on Tuesday confirmed that there had been some disruptions to coal shipments, but that’s not an uncommon thing.
“There have been patterns of things that look like there are some formal quota systems operating,’’ he added.
One report cited a Singapore-based trader who also speculated that this might be a case of tightening import quotas rather than a complete ban.
Australia is China’s largest supplier of thermal coal and overtook Mongolia to become China’s first coking coal supplier in the first half of 2020.