China has suspended meat imports from four Australian abattoirs, fuelling concerns that escalating tensions between the two nations are damaging Australia's most important trading relationship.
The suspension will start on Tuesday 12 May, according to a statement on a customs website. The four plants make up about 35% of Australian beef exports to China, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Australia has stoked tensions with China in recent weeks by calling for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Australia is also facing the looming threat of major tariffs on its barley shipments to China.
Australian Agricultural Co, the nation's largest integrated cattle and beef producer, fell as much as 5.6%, the most in 6 weeks. Elders Ltd, which helps sell and buy livestock across Australia, China, Indonesia and Vietnam, dropped as much as 6.9%, the most since March 23.
The halt related to labeling and health certification requirements, Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said in a statement.
The government was concerned that they appear to be based on highly technical issues, which in some cases date back more than a year.
We will work with industry and authorities in both Australia and China to seek to find a solution that allows these businesses to resume their normal operations as soon as possible, he said.
The Australian Meat Industry Council said the matter was a trade and market access issue.
While not desirable, we have dealt with issues of this nature before, chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said in a statement.
As the most China-dependent developed nation, Australia has a lot to lose if the relationship deteriorates.
Three facilities in Queensland, including JBS-owned abattoirs near Toowoomba and Ipswich, and Kilcoy Pastoral Co, were suspended, as well as Northern Cooperative's abattoir in Casino,
New South Wales. The Dinmore beef processing facility, near Ipswich, is the biggest beef processing plant in the southern hemisphere, according to its website.