Nov. 2 (UPI) -- Trade tensions are reaching a new high between China and Australia as China holds up more than 20 tons of Australian rock lobster at an airport in Shanghai, citing Chinese concerns of heavy metal content.
Australian Trade Minister David Littleproud said Monday Canberra is worried the lobsters, worth about $1.4 million, could be the target of "enhanced customs clearance measures," the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The Chinese "are effectively saying that they wish to test up to 50 percent of rock lobsters that come in for heavy metals," Littleproud said. "Now, we contest quite clearly that there is already arrangements within Australia to do tests to make sure the product we send is of the highest class in the world."
Australia is taking issue with the delay amid other trade disputes initiated by China. Beijing has targeted Australian barley, timber, wine and coal. China could also enforce new bans on Australian copper ore, copper concentrate and sugar, the South China Morning Post reported Monday.
Australia's lobster fishermen depend heavily on the Chinese market. More than 94 percent of the lobster industry's exports go to China, with exports valued at about $530 million from 2018 to 2019, according to the Herald.
As Australian exporters worry the lobsters will die by Tuesday before they can be sold to restaurants and stores in China, the Chinese foreign ministry said Monday authorities have found "biohazards" in Australian timber.
China's customs office also said it found "contamination" in barley shipments from Australia. The issue was a grass-like weed, bromus rigidus, according to the Post.
Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said Australian exporters have cooperated with Chinese authorities and the delays are the result of erratic decision-making in Beijing.
"In a broader sense, there have been a number of disruptions to Australia trade with China this year," he said. "They have been well recorded and well documented and the risk factor appears to have changed as a result of some of the unpredictable administrative decisions that have been made at the Chinese end."