WAFarmers has put Australia’s biggest trading partner on notice, warning China the more it “beats up” Australian growers, the more inclined they will be to seek out other relationships. It comes after Chinese state media called Australia’s declaration that China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea are illegal a reckless “provocation” that could be punished with trade sanctions against Australian beef and wine. The Global Times said the relationship between Australia and China had “deteriorated to a very bad point” after the Morrison Government filed a statement to the United Nations saying the Asian superpower had no legal claim to the disputed islands in the South China Sea. WAFarmers chief executive officer Trevor Whittington said Australian beef and wine had suffered for decades from foreign governments imposing trade restrictions, adding: “This is nothing new to our farmers and winemakers”. “The problem the Chinese government have is the more they beat up Australian growers and walk away from being a reliable trading partner that sticks by its trade agreements, the more Australian businesses will turn to traditional markets like the UK and the US and new markets across Asia and the Middle East,” he said. The latest threat follows China’s decision to whack Australian barley imports with an 80 per cent tariff and suspend beef imports from four large red meat abattoirs after Australia led calls for an independent inquiry into coronavirus. Mr Whittington said if China was serious about hurting WA economically it would be turning off the tap to iron ore and gas. “Instead, they are targeting sectors that they hope will react and run squealing to government which will only invite more of the same,” he said. “Western Australian farmers understand the global game and will sit this one out. We know that the Chinese tend to move on if we don’t overreact.” Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said China’s demand for Australian beef was starting to taper after going “through the roof” at the start of the year. But he said demand remained strong — year-on-year, Australian beef exports to China were up 3 per cent when compared to June 2019. “We still have a strong business there and are confident that our members have a good opportunity to be sending product ... it’s being well received by the consumers at large,” he said. The total value of the WA beef industry is about $857.4 million which includes the live export industry, domestic consumption and boxed beef exports (both chilled and frozen). Coll MacRury from the WA Meat Marketing Co-operative, which produces lamb and sheep meat products, said further trade sanctions from China would be “terrible” for the State’s economy given how subdued the world market is elsewhere. “China is one of the few places — even though it has dropped off for lamb and beef, or sheep and beef... it’s still historically at reasonable levels,” the WAMMCO chief executive officer said. Australian Grape & Wine chief executive officer Tony Battaglene said he had not been advised of any “imminent threat” to the country’s wine trade with China. He expected that soon to be released export figures should show a slight improvement in wine trade with China. A previous report from Wine Australia showed exports to China were down 43 per cent compared with the previous year because of coronavirus lockdown measures.