Australia to seek part in China-EU trade row at WTO

·2 min read

MELBOURNE, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Australia will seek to be included in consultations over a trade dispute between the European Union and China that the EU launched at the World Trade Organisation, the Australian trade minister said on Saturday.

The EU launched a challenge at the WTO on Thursday accusing China of discriminatory trade practices against Lithuania that it says threaten the integrity of the single market.

China has downgraded diplomatic ties with Lithuania and pressured multinationals to sever links with the Baltic nation of 2.8 million people after it allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in Vilnius.

China's curbs include a refusal to clear Lithuanian goods through Chinese customs, rejection of import applications from Lithuania and pressure on EU firms to remove Lithuanian content from supply chains when exporting to China.

China regards the self-governed island of Taiwan as its own territory.

Relations between Australia and China, its top trade partner, soured after Canberra banned Huawei Technologies from its 5G broadband network in 2018, toughened laws against foreign political interference, and called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

Beijing responded by freezing ministerial contacts and imposing tariffs on several Australian commodities including coal, beef, barley and wine.

Australia has filed two complaints to the WTO in the past 18 months over China's duties on bottled wine imports and on barley imports.

In December, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Australia had been subject to "economic coercion" by China.

"Australia has a substantial interest in the issues raised in the dispute brought by the European Union against China ... and will request to join these consultations," Trade Minister Dan Tehan said in a statement.

"Australia opposes the use of economic coercion and discriminatory and restrictive trade practices which undermine the rules-based international trading system and cause economic harm." (Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Stephen Coates)