China says its importers choosing voluntarily to cut back on Australian goods

FILE PHOTO: Wines from Australia are seen on a shelf at a supermarket inside IAPM mall in Shanghai, China, August 15, 2015. Picture taken August 15, 2015. REUTERS/Aly Song

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Tuesday reduced imports of Australian products like wine, coal and sugar were the result of buyers’ own decisions, after media said Beijing had told importers to stop buying a range of Australian goods amid a deterioration in ties.

The Australian Financial Review, citing unnamed sources, said on Monday Chinese officials met food and wine importers last week and warned them not to make new orders for Australian wine and farm products.

The South China Morning Post, citing sources, said China was expected to block imports of sugar, red wine, lobster, barley, coal and copper ore and concentrates from Australia.

It said a ban on wheat was likely to follow, although a date had not yet been set. Reuters could not independently confirm the reports.

Asked whether the government had instructed importers to stop buying Australian products, China’s Foreign Ministry told Reuters: “Relevant companies reducing imports of relevant products from Australia are acting on their own initiative.”

China last week started new customs inspections on Australian lobster, halted imports of timber from northeastern Queensland state, and banned barley shipments from grain exporter Emerald Grain amid a deterioration in ties between the two countries that has already hurt trade in other farm goods.

“Whilst we shouldn’t jump to conclusions, we are working closely with the various industries who have been the subject of these reports,” Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We also continue to make enquiries with Chinese authorities to seek clarity and to encourage them to address areas of concern.”

China said on Monday that its halt on timber imports from Australia came after it found pests in several earlier shipments, while inspections on lobster were aimed at guaranteeing food safety.

Reporting by Gabriel Crossley, Colin Packham and Dominique Patton; Editing by Nick Macfie