31 May 2021

New Zealand 'not asked by Australia' to join WTO action on China dispute

2:30 pm on 31 May 2021

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has denied New Zealand is supporting Australia in a barley trade dispute with China to soothe relations with our closest neighbour.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Budget day 2021.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (file photo). Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

New Zealand will be a third party in an ongoing trade dispute between the two countries, after China last year introduced an 80 percent tariff on Australian barley imports.

Australia later appealed to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and claimed China had breached international trading rules. It asked for the decision to impose the significant tariff to be reviewed.

The WTO agreed on Friday to establish a dispute settlement panel to resolve the row.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Morning Report the government had agreed to be a third party in the dispute but denied that it was to get in Australia's good books.

"I would say it's just a continuation of the things that we have often done... this is the 60th time we have joined as a third party in a dispute. We were not asked by Australia to join this one," Ardern said.

"It's a continuation of our existing practice, but just in an environment where there happens to be quite a bit of misinterpretation around where New Zealand stands on these sorts of issues."

Trade Minister Damien O'Connor said New Zealand had got involved in the row because it raised "systemic issues of importance to the effective functioning of the multilateral rules-based trading system."

"New Zealand upholds international rules and norms, so ensuring international trade rules are fairly applied by others is important to us and our exporters."

O'Connor said New Zealand was not asked to join as a third party and it was "not unusual for us to join actions disputes when we see challenges to international trade rules."

"We rely on the rules-based trading system to provide a secure and predictable global trading environment for everyone so we will act to uphold it."

The decision comes as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison visits New Zealand for the annual leaders' forum - the first since the Covid-19 pandemic.

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