CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA — China is threatening large tariffs on Australian barley imports as tensions rise between the two countries as Australia pushes for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a May 11 report from Reuters.

The pandemic, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, has infected for than 4.2 million people worldwide, while killing more than 280,000.

China is by far the largest importer of Australian barley, taking in over half of the country’s exports worth between A$1.5 billion and A$2 billion per year.

“The Australian government is deeply concerned by reports that unjustified duties may be levied on Australian barley imports to China,” said Simon Birmingham, Australian Trade Minister.

China, which launched an anti-dumping probe into imports of Australian barley in 2018, extended the investigation by six months in November 2019. It is scheduled to be completed by May 19.

Andrew Weidemann, chairman of Grain Producers Australia, told Reuters that Australian grain producers have been informed by China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) that it is considering imposing a dumping margin of up to 73.6% and a subsidy margin of up to 6.9% for barley imported from Australia.

“China alleged we have damaged their barley industry materially,” Weidemann told Reuters. “We’d be extremely disappointed if this was politically motivated.”

At a news conference in Canberra, Birmingham said the Australian government hopes to prove in the coming days that Australian farmers and barley producers “do not receive undo subsidies and do not dump their product on foreign markets. But if the case were to go against them, then we absolutely reserve our right to pursue all other avenues, including through the WTO (World Trade Organization).”

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