Are grapes the latest victim in trade war?
It’s been a year since China first slapped its whopping 80.5% tariffs on Australian barley, effectively shutting down an annual trade flow worth $1.2 billion. Since then, the escalating tensions between Australia and China have seen trade sanctions hit numerous Aussie industries; from rock lobsters and beef to wine, timber, cotton and coal. And now, the latest casualty in this “trade war” may be Australian table grapes, which are worth $300 million in trade per year. Containers of fresh table grapes that normally clear Chinese customs within a few days have been delayed by several weeks. Sometimes without refrigeration. The Australian Table Grape Association (ATGA) has estimated that these delays could cost growers and exporters up to $40,000 per container.
The federal government is still playing it coy. Trade minister Dan Tehan told ABC Landline’s Kath Sullivan in an interview that he “won’t jump to any conclusions” about the delays. Further, that government and industry are still “trying to work out… the cause of the hold-up”. While 80 percent of Australian table grape exports appear to have gone through without a hitch, there are “issues” with the other 20 percent.
According to a report from international news organisation Reuters, ATGA CEO Jeff Scott said the reason for the delays hasn’t been explained to Australian exporters. Also, exports from other countries haven’t faced the same problem.
“For the last three weeks, table grapes have been experiencing lengthy delays at port,” Scott said back in April. “There are about 400 or 500 containers that are taking between five and 10 days longer than normal to be cleared.”
According to another report from the English-language Chinese newspaper Global Times, sources from China’s fruit industry have said that the table grape delays were associated with “the need to conduct nucleic acid tests on imported fruit”. Also, there was no word on when – or if – the backlog of fruit would be cleared.
Scott told ABC News that if delayed containers aren’t powered, the lack of refrigeration could cause the fruit to deteriorate. This reduces its value.
“The whole industry is very concerned,” he says. “The delays are causing huge losses to table grape growers and exporters. It is causing a lot of anxiety.”