The timing was exquisite. Just as many Australian farmers had mostly finished sowing, Beijing’s 80% tariff imposed on our second biggest crop – barley – hit like a tonne of bricks.
All the industry players acknowledge this was a long running dispute that began two years ago. Beijing doesn’t like our anti-dumping measures and is unhappy that Australia has failed to treat its biggest trading partner as a market economy, as agreed in the China Australia Free Trade Agreement.
But the decision also came just after Scott Morrison had called for an inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak and within the context of the Trump administration’s posturing over whether the virus came from a lab in Wuhan, a link the prime minister has not made. Complicating matters is a US-China trade deal early in the year and, though the US is not a big barley supplier, farmers were warned it may come at Australia’s expense.
To most people, barley means beer. But for a lot of Australian growers, it is a handy part of their cropping program, with the end product either sold as malting barley or feed supply, two thirds of which goes to the export market. It is also kept on hand for stock feed if the season takes a turn for the worse. And apart from barley’s value off-farm, it is a useful crop that takes a bit more climatic punishment as global warming proceeds apace.
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