By Colin Packham
CANBERRA, April 23 (Reuters) - Australian table grapes are experiencing delays in clearing Chinese ports, growers and industry executives said on Friday, in what they see as another sign of worsening trade ties between the two countries.
Relations soured last year after Canberra accused China of meddling in domestic affairs, and worsened when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison sought an independent inquiry over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic that emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
In the aftermath China moved to limit imports of Canberra's barley, beef, cotton and seafood - and in what may be the latest causality, Australian grape growers said they are experiencing custom delays.
"For the last three weeks, table grapes have been experiencing lengthy delays at port. There are about 400 or 500 containers that are taking between five and 10 days longer than normal to be cleared,” said Jeff Scott, chief executive officer at the industry body, The Australian Table Grape Association.
"The fruit is in cold storage so it's not rotting but shipments are being moved from port to port to try and avoid delays and Australian farmers will be liable for that costs.”
Scott said the bulk of the delays are being reported in southern Chinese ports, most notably Port of Shenzhen. Exporters have not been given a reason for the delays, but say that exporters from other countries are not experiencing the same delays, Scott said.
There was no immediate response from Port of Shenzhen to requests for comment from Reuters.
Last year Australia exported 152,000 tonnes of table grapes, worth A$622 million ($480.8 million). China was the largest buyer of those Australian exports, purchasing about 40% or 60,000 tonnes, Australian government data shows.
Despite, what the United States has described as "economic coercion", Australia has said it will not alter its approach to relations with China.
Australia on Wednesday used recently passed national security legislation to scrap two deals struck by its second most populous state with China on Beijing's flagship Belt and Road Initiative.
China said the decision could "further damage" to bilateral relations.
($1 = 1.2937 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Colin Packham in Canberra; Editing by Susan Fenton)
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