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Trade

Australian lobster held up in Chinese customs: trade group

Seafood faces tougher inspections at time of rising bilateral tensions

SYDNEY -- Shipments of Australian lobster to China have encountered customs delays in recent days, an industry body here said Sunday, in a possible new sign of trade tensions between the two countries.

China has increased inspections of imported Australian lobster, according to the Seafood Trade Advisory Group, which said the new checks appear related to health and compliance.

Australia has faced rising trade headwinds from China since Prime Minister Scott Morrison in April called for an independent probe into the origins of the novel coronavirus. Differences over the South China Sea and Beijing's handling of Hong Kong later added to bilateral tensions.

What prompted the increase in lobster inspections was unclear, but any delays would threaten a vital source of income for the industry. More than 90% of Australia's lobster exports go to China, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Almost all Australian players in the industry have decided to halt shipments to China until more is known about the situation, the trade group said in a statement.

China ranked as Australia's biggest trading partner in the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. But some of the country's most important exports have run into new Chinese hurdles in recent months.

In October, delays emerged in customs clearance for coal, while Beijing called on Chinese textile mills to stop using Australian cotton.

China temporarily halted imports of Australian meat in May, and it has imposed an added tariff of more than 80% on Australian barley.

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