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China denies banning Australian coal, says imports continue as normal

China denies banning Australian coal, says imports continue as normal
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has denied reports of putting restrictions on coal shipments from Australia. Delays in handling coal imports were due to stepped up inspections to protect the environment, it said on Friday.

“In recent years, China Customs has found that some of the imported coal didn’t meet our environmental protection standards when it carried out inspection and testing on safety and quality risks of the imported coal,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters.

He added that customs officials had strengthened quality and safety inspections of imported coal “in accordance with relevant laws and regulations” to better protect Chinese importers and ensure environmental safety.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham also said on Friday that he had no reason to believe China is banning Australian coal.

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“I want to provide reassurance that we have no basis to believe that there is a ban on Australian coal exports into China or into any part of China,” he said.

Birmingham explained that Chinese import quotas, combined with the testing of products for quality assurance, “may be slowing down the processing of coal in certain ports across China.” He said Beijing was applying its rules equally to all countries and wasn’t discriminating against Australia.

The Australian minister also told reporters in Adelaide that he did not see any problem with the relationship between the two countries. “We expect and would understand that the trade agreements that we have between Australia and China will continue to be consistently applied.”

On Thursday, Reuters reported that one of China’s biggest ports, Dalian, had banned imports of Australian coal and would cap overall coal imports from all sources to the end of 2019 at 12 million tons.

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Australia is the world’s number one exporter of coal, while China remains its biggest trade partner, accounting for nearly 30 percent of Australian sales abroad. Apart from coal, its main exports to China include iron ore and gold.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries have been deteriorating since 2017, when Australian authorities accused China of interfering with its domestic affairs. The strain in bilateral relations intensified after Canberra canceled the visa of Chinese businessman Huang Xiangmo earlier this month for allegedly promoting Chinese interests in Australia.

Last month, Australia barred Chinese telecoms giants Huawei Technologies from providing 5G technology for their networks, citing national security concerns.

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