China has suspended beef imports from four abattoirs in NSW and Queensland, escalating trade and diplomatic tensions with Australia.
Eighteen per cent of Australia's beef production is exported to China, with exports worth more than $3 billion a year.
The four meatworks involved — JBS Dinmore, JBS Beef City, Kilcoy and Northern Cooperative Meat Company — account for roughly 35 per cent of Australian beef exports.
China Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said customs officers had detected "repeated violations" of inspection and quarantine requirements by a "few" Australian beef export companies.
“China has decided to suspend effective immediately, processing four Australian companies’ import declarations for meat products,” he said.
Nationals Senator Matt Canavan said the issue appeared to be about labelling stickers being the wrong way around and noted the Kilcoy abattoir was Chinese-owned.
“We shouldn't jump to conclusions but it does underscore the need for us to diversify our trade relationships,” he said.
Tatura beef producer Phil Serra said if there was a breach of protocols, the abattoirs should shut down.
“I would love to see everything Australia-made, but we need to look at the big picture, a lot of jobs rely on China,” he said.
“Nothing is moving in the world at the moment, there’s no market for the meat we send to China — restaurants, pubs, hotels are closed.
“Export market cattle won’t get exported but we haven’t got enough trade cattle to feed ourselves at the moment, so our prices are going through the roof.”
National Farmers’ Federation president Fiona Simson said disruptions to exports were concerning.
“We recognise in relationships as significant as that between Australia and China, from time to time, issues do arise,” she said.
“When they do, it is important that both parties work together in a respectful manner to, as soon as possible, resolve the challenge to an end that is satisfactory to both.”
Gooram beef producer Charlie Brydon said trade wars would go on no matter what was happening in the world — including coronavirus.
“It’s got a fair while to play out, and we’ve got to remain calm and know this is what happens in the trade game,” Mr Brydon said.