China says handling Australian wine imports as normal amid delay complaints

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is handling customs processes as normal for imports of Australian wines, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, after Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates Ltd, said it faced delays getting some products into the country.

Treasury Wine, the world’s biggest listed winemaker, disclosed the issue last week as Australian Trade Minister Steve Ciobo began a China visit aimed at repairing ties with his country’s largest trading partner after a recent souring in relations.

Speaking at a daily news briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang referred specific questions on Treasury Wine to the customs administration.

But he added: “According to what we know of the situation, it can be said that the Chinese customs and relevant import inspection and quarantine departments are handling the relevant entry applications according to normal procedures”.

China and Australia have all along been in communication about this matter, Lu added, without providing further details.

China’s customs authorities have yet to comment on the matter.

Relations between the two countries have cooled since late 2017 when Turnbull’s government proposed a bill to limit foreign influence in Australia, including political donations. Beijing saw the move as “anti-China”.

The diplomatic rift spilled into the trade arena last week with the wine issue, raising fears among other Australian exporters that depend on access to China.

This week the Chinese government’s top diplomat Wang Yi told his Australian counterpart Canberra should remove its “colored glasses” to get relations back on track with its major trading partner.

On Wednesday, the nationalist-leaning, state-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said China should let Australia suffer for a while, rather than soothe ties too quickly.

“China does not have to throw away Sino-Australia relations. China just needs to slow their relationship for a period,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

“For example, it will not be necessary for the Australian Prime Minister to visit China this year. In fact, he could visit a few years later,” the paper said.

Turnbull, according to Australian media, is planning to travel to China later this year to smooth over bumpy diplomatic ties between the two countries.

“China’s ministerial officials, other than those with the economic and trade departments, could postpone interactions with Australia,” the Global Times added.

China should also switch to buying U.S. products rather than Australian ones, like iron ore, wine and beef, the paper said.

“Last year, Australia exported $76.45 billion in goods to China. Lowering Aussie exports by $6.45 billion would send cold chills up and down the spine of Australia,” the editorial said.

“Of course, it would be an even greater shock if the import reductions totaled $10 billion,” it added.

The widely-read Global Times is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily but its editorials do not reflect government policy.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu declined to comment on the editorial.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Darren Schuettler