February 21, 2019 / 9:42 PM / 4 months ago

Australia plays down China port ban on Australian coal imports

MELBOURNE, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Australia’s treasurer on Friday played down concerns about a ban on Australian coal imports into China’s northern port of Dalian, saying China was not targeting Australia over other diplomatic issues.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was responding to questions about a Reuters report that customs at China’s northern port of Dalian had banned imports of Australian coal since the start of February, news which knocked the Australian dollar down more than 1 percent on Thursday on concerns about tension with Australia’s biggest trading partner.

Asked whether Australian imports into Dalian had been banned, Frydenberg said: “No they haven’t.”

Frydenberg attributed the slowdown to existing testing of coal imports and denied it was politically motivated.

“Well, I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. The Australia-China trading relationship is exceptionally strong and exceptionally important,” Frydenberg said in an interview on Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

“In the past they’ve put testing systems in place. As (Trade Minister) Simon Birmingham has said, our ambassador will be making inquiries,” he said.

The Aussie dollar clawed back some losses to $0.70995 as of Friday morning after his comments.

Frydenberg was asked whether Australia was being targeted in retribution for Australia’s barring of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies from supplying equipment to its 5G broadband network.

“No we’re not. We have a very strong relationship with China and it’s based on mutual respect and mutual interest,” he said.

Coal is Australia’s biggest export earner. Just over one-fifth of Australia’s thermal coal and metallurgical coal exports went to China in the year to June 2018.

Despite a slowdown imposed by China on all coal imports late last year, Australian coal exports to China were higher in the fourth quarter of 2018 than in the same quarter a year earlier, Frydenberg said. (Reporting by Sonali Paul Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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