The Federal Government is looking into reports that Chinese state-owned energy providers and steel mills have been told to stop importing Australian coal.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said he had seen the reports, and that the Government had reached out to China for more information.
“We don’t have evidence to verify those reports,” he said.
“We have certainly been in touch with Australian industry and have been working to seek a response from Chinese authorities in relation to the accusations that have been made publicly.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said China does sometimes change its import demand based on how much coal it is receiving domestically.
“It’s not uncommon for domestic quotas to be in place in China,” he said.
“We’re looking at those reports and obviously raising the issues with the relevant authority.”
The reports state that two steel mills, one in north-east and one in south China, were told verbally about the ban, and that some traders believe buyers will avoid Australian coal even if the ban is not real.
The ABC has been unable to independently verify the reports.
Senator Birmingham said there had been no word from China yet.
“It’s well known that on multiple occasions this year we have sought a ministerial dialogue with China and they have not been willing to reciprocate,” he said.
“Our door remains wide open for that.
“In the meantime we will operate through the normal diplomatic channels where we can, and as I say work with the Australian industry as well.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said it did not seem like the Government was making any effort to have a positive and constructive relationship with China.
“[The reports are] a huge concern, but the Government needs to actually have a relationship with the nation which is the destination for, on Labor’s figures, around 48 per cent of our exports,” he said.
“It’s one thing to talk about diversification, and that would be a good thing if we weren’t so reliant upon one country, but you have a Trade Minister who hasn’t spoken to his counterpart in China.”
‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves’: Minister urges caution
The Trade Minister also noted there have previously been disruptions to Australia’s export of coal into China, but the Government wanted reassurance China would continue to honour its Free Trade Agreement.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we have seen a cyclical pattern [of] coal exports to China,” Senator Birmingham said.
“It’s not the first time in recent years that we’ve seen some disruption to the timing and sequencing of exports, of coal in particular, into China.
“There have been patterns of things that look like there are some informal quota systems.
“[But] we take the reports seriously enough to seek some assurances from Chinese authorities.”
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg also backed up Senator Birmingham, with both saying it was in China’s interests as well to maintain trade connections with Australia.
“There have been, in the past, some issues in relation to coal and we’ll work through those and we’ll continue to work through these and in the future there’ll be other issues and we’ll continue to work through those issues as well and we’ll do so in a constructive way, we will do so in a productive way,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“The key point is the relationship with China is a very significant one, and a mutually beneficial one.”
Earlier this year, China imposed import tariffs on Australian beef and barley as relations between the two countries hit a new low.