Australia’s trade minister Simon Birmingham says he is “deeply troubled” by reports that China has formally banned imports of Australian coal, in the latest sign the dispute between the nations is worsening.

More than 50 ships carrying Australian coal have been stranded off China after ports were verbally told in October not to offload such shipments. That ban appears to have been formalised, with the national development and reform commission on Saturday giving power plants approval to import coal without restrictions, except from Australia, the Global Times reported.

If true that would “indicate discriminatory trade practices”, Birmingham said.

The diplomatic row between China and Australia just keeps getting worse, with no obvious off-ramp to the downward spiral in relations between the two key trading partners.

Ties have been fraught since 2018 when Canberra barred Huawei Technologies   from building its 5G network on national security grounds. They went into the deep freeze earlier in 2020 after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.

Beijing accuses Canberra of being a puppet of the US and of meddling in its internal affairs. It has hit Australian barley and wine with crippling tariffs and told traders to stop buying commodities including copper, sugar, timber and lobster.


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