China in communications with Australia over trade disputes: commerce minister

China's Commerce Minister Zhong Shan concludes a news conference at the State Council Information Office, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beijing, China, May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s commerce minister Zhong Shan said the two countries are in communication when asked about Australia’s request to discuss beef and barley trade issues, amid escalating tensions over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier in May, Australia’s trade minister Simon Birmingham requested a telephone call with Zhong after four large beef exporters were suspended by Chinese customs authorities.

Beijing has also proposed an 80% tariff on Australian barley shipments amid souring ties over Australia’s call for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic that emerged from China late last year.

Reporting by Stella Qiu and Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Kim Coghill