Australia’s WTO wine dispute with China progresses

By Melissa Coade

Thursday October 28, 2021

David Littleproud
Minister for agriculture David Littleproud. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has agreed to establish a panel to oversee a dispute settlement process over the anti-dumping duties that Beijing imposed on Australian wine imports.

On Wednesday, Australian trade minister Dan Tehan and agriculture minister David Littleproud announced that the WTO had agreed to look at the tariffs China imposed on local wine products last November. This follows news that initial attempts to request a panel be appointed in September were blocked by China.

The ministers stressed that Australia remained open to further discussions with Beijing to resolve the issue. 

Australia will continue to use the WTO dispute settlement system to vigorously defend the interests of Australian wine producers and exporters,” the statement read.

Wine is but one of the local exports that China has slapped tariffs on in the last three years, with Australian barley, thermal coal, wine, beef and lobster all falling out of favour with Australia’s largest trading partner. In May, both Tehan and Littleproud issued a similar statement about requesting a similar panel be established to examine Australia’s barley dispute with Beijing

Tensions between the two nations escalated after Australia banned the Chinese telecoms company Huawei from bringing its 5G network to local shores in 2018. The imposition of trade tariffs that followed has been described as ‘economic coercion‘ by allies such as the US.

As the University of Newcastle’s Professor Lisa Toohey and co-author Associate Professor Weihuan Zhou explained in their piece for The Conversation, a win at the WTO could be years down the track but seeking a formal resolution from the international body is a sensible approach when negotiations in trade disputes have deteriorated in the way they have between Australia and China. 

Professor Toohey told The Mandarin that the WTO was an appropriate and desirable mechanism for dealing with the issues between Australia and China because its main remedy was to get a country to change its laws and procedures to comply with trade agreements.

“The WTO is a really important forum for resolving issues between partners. This system is quite mature in that it’s not an offensive act to bring a dispute against someone,” Toohey said.

“It sends the message that we’re willing to use international rules and international law to deal with our grievances and that we want things to be focused on what the law is and not on political games.”

A Geneva-based WTO official confirmed that 15 countries – including Canada, Britain and New Zealand – had reserved a spot on the settlement panel as third parties to the Australia-China anti-dumping wine dispute.


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