"There is no trade war. Everyone needs to take a deep breath, take a cold shower and understand that we produce the best food and fibre in the world and we have marketplaces that we'll be able to send our barley and other produce into other markets if our producers wish to,'' he said.
Describing speculation the barley tariffs were payback for Australia's support for a COVID-19 probe as "dangerous", Mr Littleproud conceded it was possible.
"I'd be very disappointed if it is because the Chinese government themselves were party to that agreement last night at the World Health Assembly. So we would find it very disappointing if it is,'' he said.
"We are working calmly and methodically with them. The premise of their argument, saying that we have subsidised farmers through farm household allowance - which is a social security payment - and through programs with the Murray-Darling Basin - are false."
"So we've only got the determination from China last night, and we'll work through that and understand what their reasoning is,” he added. “If we believe that we haven't been understood appropriately, then the next course of action for us is to refer it to the World Trade Organisation, who is the independent umpire. They'll make a determination.”
Asked if he was “serious” about going through the WTO, he said: "Obviously, we've got to go through their determination. And yes, we are serious. I think we've got a strong record on that.”
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said China’s decision “concerns us deeply”, saying it appears to lack “a proper understanding of the facts or evidence”.
“It just doesn't stack up in terms of any analysis of Australian farming and our barley production to suggest that our exporters engage in dumping of products,” he said at a press conference from Adelaide this morning.
He said it’s “very disappointing” that China has refused to schedule minister-to-minister discussions. “Australia is always up for a conversation with any of our global counterparts... we're up for a discussion and it's disappointing that others are not.”
“This is a real blow for barley farmers and producers,” he continued. “It is a significant market to China and this is not just bad news for Australian farmers. It will be Chinese breweries and Chinese consumers who end up paying more or getting substandard product from other countries in the future as a result of this.”
He stressed that Australia is “not interested in a trade war” with China. “We don't pursue our trade policies on a tit-for-tat basis,” he said, adding that he “hopes they see common sense”.
Senator Birmingham said the government will work with Australian barley producers to find them alternative markets, noting a new free trade agreement with Indonesia coming into effect on July 5.
Asked whether he thinks China’s trade strikes are related to the COVID-19 probe, he said: “I can understand why people draw those links - particularly given the unhelpful comments of the Chinese Ambassador to Australia a few weeks ago.
“In the end, China denies there's a link. The only thing we can do in defence of our farmers is engage in the process as constructively as we can. That's what we've done with Australian industry to date and we now enter a new phase in terms of analysing how we can appeal, what steps we can take, and we're going to do that with the same determination we've shown in defending rights of our farmers up until now.”
The remarks came after China delivered a brutal payback to Australia for pushing for a COVID-19 probe, slapping new tariffs on drought-affected barley exporters.
Within hours of President Xi Jinping announcing he would back a probe into the coronavirus pandemic once it is “brought under control”, China moved swiftly to punish Australia.
China’s Commerce Industry confirmed it will levy anti-dumping duties on barley imports from May 19.
Barley exporters have warned the tariffs could cripple the industry which had already seen exports slashed from $1.5 billion to $600 million last year.
China has accused Australia of dumping the barley exports. An anti-dumping duty rate of 73.6 per cent will be slapped on Australian barley imports.
The tariffs begin today and will last five years.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says Australia was not told in advance of what China planned to do.
“We learnt through the official notification that the Chinese Government made. It’s a deeply
disappointing decision particularly for Australian barley farmers,” he told Today on Tuesday morning.
“This is a decision that reflects on the Chinese Government. We’ll look at the details of it carefully and closely. It is a deeply disappointing decision.
“We’ll analyse all the details of it thoroughly and reserve all our rights in terms of how we appeal, how we respond.”
China’s foreign ministry has claimed the new trade measures are not related to Australia’s call for an independent investigation of coronavirus.
But the Chinese controlled Global Times newspaper has lashed Prime Minister Scott Morrison for pushing for a probe.
“From China’s perspective, Australia has never been a friendly trading partner, and consultations with the country on trade issues have always been frustrating, which has apparently weakened its motivation to promote bilateral trade,’’ it said.
“The Australian government seems more interested in exploiting China’s suspension of some beef imports and its potential imposition of tariffs on Australian barley to describe itself as a victim of trade sanctions.”
With bilateral relations hitting a bottom point, any move taken by China that may impact the interests of Australian business could be interpreted by observers as retaliation or a threat to force Canberra to change tone or make “ideological compromise,” even though Australian officials admitted that the barley issue has been underway for some time and the beef import suspension also has good reasons.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud also confirmed on Monday he was unable to contact Chinese government officials as trade tensions escalated.
Australia has threatened to take the matter to the World Trade Organisation if the tariff is imposed.
Samantha Maiden is news.com.au’s national political editor | @samanthamaiden