China claims Australian irrigation scheme is an unfair subsidy

Farmer Ian Shippen stands under a mobile irrigation boom stretching nearly half a kilometre on his farm in the heart of Australia’s Murray-Darling River basin.

China’s 80.5 per cent tariff on imports of Australian barley stem from an anti-dumping, anti-subsidy investigation launched in 2018.

Beijing justified the penalty May 19, concluding Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin Plan — a scheme to improve the well-being of an ecologically vital river system — is a subsidy for Australian growers.

Under the plan, Australia buys water rights from irrigators to improve the health of the basin, an area twice the size of Spain and home to 40 per cent of Australia’s agricultural output.

“Using the Murray-Darling Basin Plan as justification is frankly absurd. It buys water from irrigators, 99 per cent of whom do not grow barley,” an Australian government source said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the matter.

“Even worse is the scheme impacts the east coast when nearly all Australian barley sold to China comes from the west.”

Both the OECD and Australian government consider Australian farmers to be among the least subsidized in the world, receiving little government assistance to grow food and fibre, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

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