Many newspapers globally are reporting that China’s customs authorities have told Chinese state-owned steelmakers and power plants to stop importing Australian coal.

Australia and China have had a difficult trading relationship over the past few months and if the reports of a ban are confirmed, it would mark a significant escalation in tension.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told reporters that the Australian Government has reached out to China for more information.

“We don’t have evidence to verify those reports,” he told local newspapers.

“We have certainly been in touch with Australian industry and have been working to seek a response from Chinese authorities in relation to the accusations that have been made publicly.”

Some media have quoted the Minerals Council of Australia and reported that they were aware of the matter.

“There are several vessels carrying Australian coal waiting at Chinese ports for more than a month now as generally custom clearances have been very slow,” Deepak Kannan told the South China Morning post newspaper.

China is number one on the list of consumers for Australia’s metallurgical coal. Almost a quarter of exports go China. It also the second-largest consumer of Australia’s thermal coal. (Japan in on number 1).

Relations between China and Australia have been deteriorating quite rapidly and many analysts believe that these reports must be seen with that context in mind.

China announced that it will increase tariffs on Australian-grown barley in May. This was used to make beer. Then, Australian beef was banned followed by anti-dumping investigations into wine imported from the country into China.

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