After a top Hong Kong customs official stated Beijing had imposed trade restrictions and lobster smuggling was a national security issue, Australia said it is seeking answers from China on why its lobster exports have been prohibited.
Until diplomatic difficulties in 2020, almost all of Australia’s live seafood exports went to mainland China, with Beijing imposing a variety of unofficial trade barriers on Australian produce.
Exports of lobsters to Hong Kong rose as a result of the separate free trade agreement between Hong Kong and Australia, with some of the live seafood making its way to mainland cities.
Hong Kong’s new Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Louise Ho, told local media on Thursday that a new crackdown on the smuggling of Australian lobsters from Hong Kong to mainland China was an “important part of protecting national security”.
“On the surface, it is a simple matter of smuggling lobsters, but these activities undermine our country’s trade restrictions against Australia,” Ho said, according to local media outlet RTHK.
The comments come as China’s trade practices are being reviewed by the World Trade Organization, with Australia stating China’s actions are inconsistent with WTO rules.
Australia’s ambassador to the WTO said in a statement on Thursday that China had “implemented trade disruptive measures” which had ended Australia’s exports of a dozen commodities, including lobster.
Australia lobster exports to China, previously worth $527 million a year, had been “significantly impacted following the General Administration of Customs China (GACC) notification on 5 November 2020 they would be subjected to enhanced inspection”, a spokesperson for Australia’s Minister for Trade Dan Tehan said in an emailed statement on Friday.
“The Australian Government continues to seek further information from GACC on this matter.”
Asked to respond to the Hong Kong official Ho’s comment, he said: “The trade in Australian rock lobster to Hong Kong fully complies with importing country requirements”.