Australia’s “substantial trade interest” has seen Canberra officially request to be included in consultations as part of the European Union’s dispute with China at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Beijing’s alleged trade curbs on Lithuania. China is Australia’s largest trading partner, but the two nations have been involved in their own trade dispute over the last two years after China placed unofficial bans and tariffs on various goods, including wine and beef . “Australia has a substantial trade interest in these consultations, which concern China’s alleged import bans or import restrictions on certain products, alleged export bans or export restrictions on certain products, and alleged restrictions or prohibitions on the supply of services,” a statement from Australia’s WTO delegation to China and the European Union released on Thursday said. “Given the extent and value of this trading relationship, Australia has substantial commercial and systemic interests in ensuring that China’s measures affecting trade are applied in accordance with the WTO Agreements.” ‘Suspicion of counterfeiting’: China bans Lithuanian beef, dairy and alcohol On Wednesday, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne met with her Lithuanian counterpart, Gabrielius Landsbergis, in Canberra and they reached an agreement to step up cooperation on strategic challenges, particularly pressure from Beijing. According to Australia’s statement requesting to join the consolations, China’s two-way goods and services trade with Australia was valued at A$246 billion (US$177 billion) in 2020, while Australia’s exports to China were valued at A$160 billion. Canberra lodged a formal complaint with the WTO in June after China imposed duties of between 116.2 and 218.4 per cent on Australian wine in containers of up to two litres in March . The WTO agreed to establish a dispute-settlement panel to address Canberra’s complaint in October . Canberra has chosen to inject it with political meaning by issuing a public statement making it clear this is very much about trying to build a broad coalition to resist Chinese economic coercion James Laurenceson “The act of joining a WTO dispute is not politically loaded in and of itself. But in this example, Canberra has chosen to inject it with political meaning by issuing a public statement making it clear this is very much about trying to build a broad coalition to resist Chinese economic coercion,” said James Laurenceson, director at the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney. “In contrast, no such statement was issued when Australia joined as an interested party in actions that China has recently taken against the US. “It’s not surprising that Australia would be focused on building a coalition resisting Chinese economic coercion given the campaign that Beijing is currently waging. “But being selective in delivering politically pointed messaging doesn’t help in convincing the international community that fundamentally what Australia is focused on is supporting the rules-based order around trade.” Canada is concerned by China’s recent trade actions taken against Lithuania and European Union goods and services with Lithuanian content Global Affairs Canada On Thursday, Canada also confirmed that it would seek to join the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia in European Union consultations at the WTO over Lithuania. “Canada is concerned by China’s recent trade actions taken against Lithuania and European Union goods and services with Lithuanian content, which could undermine the rules-based international trading system and its institutions,” Global Affairs Canada said in a statement. The European Union launched a challenge at the Geneva-based trade body in January, accusing China of discriminatory trade practices against Lithuania that it says threaten the integrity of its single market. Australia, Lithuania unite against China’s ‘economic coercion’ China has downgraded diplomatic ties with Lithuania and pressured multinationals to sever links with the Baltic nation of 2.8 million people after it allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in Vilnius. Canada said it opposed “economic coercion” and stood with “like-minded partners in supporting rules-based international trade” with the WTO. China, which has said the dispute was political rather than economic and labelled Lithuania’s actions an attempt to “hijack” its relations with the European Union, regards the self-governed island of Taiwan as its own territory. The challenge at the WTO allows 60 days for the parties to confer to reach a settlement. If none is reached, the European Union may choose to launch a formal dispute that would set up a WTO panel to study its claims against China. In a dramatic escalation in the trade and geopolitical feud between the two countries, it was confirmed on Thursday that China had banned beef, dairy and alcohol imports from Lithuania. On Tuesday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Zhao Lijian, had said: “China always follows WTO rules. The so-called coercion of China against Lithuania is purely made out of thin air.” “China has responded properly in defence of its legitimate rights and interests and international justice, which is completely legitimate and lawful,” he said.