China has suspended imports of beef from Lithuania since Wednesday (9 February), the General Administration of Customs said, amid a growing trade spat with the Baltic nation and its Western allies centred on Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
Customs did not give a reason for the suspension.
The agency typically halt imports of meat if exporting nations report outbreaks of disease in livestock. Lithuania has not reported any animal disease to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) recently.
The move comes, however, after Britain said on Monday it will join the United States and Australia in backing an EU trade case against China at the World Trade Organization over Beijing’s alleged trade curbs on Lithuania.
The European Commission says Lithuanian exports to China fell 91% in December compared to the same month in 2020.
Lithuania allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in its capital Vilnius last year, angering Beijing which regards the self-governed island as its own territory.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry condemned the latest Chinese move, which it called “unilateral” and “bullying” and the latest example of Beijing trying to change Lithuania’s foreign policy.
“We firmly stand together with Lithuania,” ministry spokesperson Joanne Ou told reporters.
China is the world’s top importer of beef but shipments from Lithuania are minimal, at less than 2,000 tonnes in 2020.
Taiwan has stepped up its food imports from Lithuania to help ease the impact of Chinese curbs, most recently rum.
The first batch of 1,200 bottles sold out in less than an hour after going on sale this month.
During a visit to Australia this week, Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said China will target more countries with “economic coercion” unless “like-minded” nations push back.
Joking that the two nations were part of an “exclusive club” of those targeted by Beijing, Gabrielius Landsbergis said, “we are definitely not the last.”
Flanked by his Australian counterpart, the foreign minister insisted like-minded countries must use “tools and regulations” to “withstand coercion and not to give in to political and economic pressures.”
However, Australia is not looking at renaming Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the country and remains committed to its one-China policy.
Payne said she had not held any talks with Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China claims as its own, about the possibility of changing the name of its representative office in Australia.
“No discussions of that nature,” Payne told a news briefing, “Australia remains committed to our one-China policy.”
Australia has also joined the United States and Britain in backing a European Union trade case against China at the WTO over Beijing’s alleged trade curbs on Lithuania that it says threaten the integrity of the EU’s single market.
The Lithuanian minister added, “For quite a while, Australia was probably one of the main examples when China was using economy and trade as a political instrument … now Lithuania joins this exclusive club.”