Australia’s exports to China are jumping despite their trade fight

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A BHP Billiton Ltd. freight train carrying iron ore travels along a rail track towards Port Hedland, Australia.

Ian Waldie | Bloomberg | Getty Images

China has been buying more goods from Australia this year even as their trade spat shows no signs of abating.

The value of Australia’s exports to China has jumped 24% from a year ago, to reach over $180 billion Australian dollars ($135 billion) as of the latest August data, according to research firm Oxford Economics.

Monthly data shows goods to China hit a record monthly high of 19.4 billion Australian dollars in July – a surge of 72% as compared with a year ago, according to Reuters.

Relations between the two countries deteriorated sharply last year after Australia supported a call for a global inquiry into China’s handling of its initial Covid-19 outbreak.

Since then, those tensions have filtered into Chinese sanctions on Australian goods. That has ranged from levying tariffs to imposing other bans and restrictions — affecting Australian goods including barley, wine, beef, cotton and coal. 

“Australia’s increasingly fractious trading relationship with China has been a key downside risk to the outlook over the past year,” said Sean Langcake, principal economist at Oxford Economics. “Trade barriers on certain products from Australia have been imposed and have steadily escalated as diplomatic tensions rise.”

However, through it all, Australia’s exports to China “have held up remarkably well,” the firm said in an Oct. 22 note.

Australia is one of the few developed countries that enjoys a trade surplus with China, its largest trading partner.

Iron ore driving export growth

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Despite the sanctions, Australia has managed to divert its banned exports to other countries, according to Oxford Economics.

“The key question throughout this episode for exporters has been their ability to pivot to alternate export destinations if confronted with barriers when exporting to China,” said Langcake. “Encouragingly, we find evidence that trade dispersion has occurred, rather than a collapse in export performance.”

One example is coal, which has been under the spotlight as China’s restrictions on Australian coal remain in place, despite the country’s worst power crisis in years due to a shortage of the commodity.

Coal exports from Australia to India – which is facing its own coal shortage — Japan and South Korea have soared, said Oxford Economics.

— CNBC’s Saheli Roy Choudhury contributed to this report.





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