The view from the world's largest pure car and truck carrier, the Hoegh Trapper as it docks in the Port of Mackay.
The view from the world's largest pure car and truck carrier, the Hoegh Trapper as it docks in the Port of Mackay.

Rising China tensions and trade bans a concern for Mackay

RISING tensions between Australia and its largest trading partner on the back of COVID-19 have increased calls for diversified export markets through Mackay.

Amid reports China would ban imports on seven key Australian products including coal, the head of North Queensland Bulk Ports has called for Mackay and the regions with a foothold in the export market to explore relationships with other countries.

It follows reports Australia’s trading relations with China are growing increasingly tense with a touted $6 billion cost to the national economy should the Asian giant follow through on its reported threats.

Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the “deeply troubling rumours” about Chinese-Australian trade relations were “predominantly rumours”, adding the government continued to engage with its China counterparts.

Senator Simon Birmingham (left) says the Federal Government is continuing to speak with China over the two countries’ trade relations (pictured here with Mathias Cormann). Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Senator Simon Birmingham (left) says the Federal Government is continuing to speak with China over the two countries’ trade relations (pictured here with Mathias Cormann). Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

“These are often unconfirmed, unsubstantiated rumours,” Senator Birmingham said.

“And I would urge people to treat them as such, to exercise caution and to not jump to conclusions at this point in time.

“It’s important for our exporters that we give them every possible support in terms of their engagement with relevant Chinese authorities and their business counterparts in China.

“The importers and customers who have such a huge demand for high quality Australian exports.

“We want to make sure they can all work through any issues and resolve them as effectively as possible.”

NQBP CEO Nicolas Fertin said Australia needed to find a way to be competitive in first producing high-value products domestically before exporting to new markets, such as Europe or the US.

“There is no doubt in my mind that China will continue to remain a very important trading partner,” he said.

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“But COVID-19 plus the combination of yet a third restriction in 20 years of trade suggests we need to make sure that we do not rely so much on its trade.”

With a third of NQBP’s coal exports going to the Asian superpower, Mr Fertin said the restrictions and speculation of other bans was a concerning issue but was hopeful a solution would be found.

“We can’t wait for it to come as early as it can,” he said.

“Australia is a country that relies on its exports.

Australian wine sold through Chinese online retailer G-Shop outside Shanghai. Picture: Tara Miko
Australian wine sold through Chinese online retailer G-Shop outside Shanghai. Picture: Tara Miko

“It’s an island that has the benefits of its agriculture, its tourism and its resource industry to be extremely dominant but it is also in extremely high demand in the north of Asia.

“While China has actually had a growth and is a large trading partner for us, we need to look to the other countries and those countries are Vietnam, India or Malaysia and continue to work with them.”

Senator Birmingham said the government was continuing developing market expansion opportunities with other countries including Japan and Korea through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as Canada and Mexico.

He said it was also pursuing trade agreements with the European Union and the UK.

“This is all about giving more options to Australian exporters,” he said.

“We’ve done so continuously for years even as we pursue the trade agreement with China because we realise that the best environment for our exporters to operate in is one in which they have the maximum number of choices available to them.”

North Queensland Bulk Ports CEO Nicolas Fertin. Picture: Tara Miko
North Queensland Bulk Ports CEO Nicolas Fertin. Picture: Tara Miko

Mr Fertin said while the Port of Mackay had the capacity to increase its exports, COVID-19 had impacted further development in other trading nations in Asia.

“China has been putting some policies on its import of coal several times in the past 20 years,” he said.

“This is not the first time. This one is probably a bit more troubling because it’s not only coal, it’s actually many other trades and (with) it also comes the combination that countries that would take our coal – Japan or India – are actually facing the impact of COVID-19.

“We have limited ability for us to send our exports into other countries where the demand is flattening or impacted by COVID-19.”


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