62 nations back Aussie push for COVID-19 inquiry
Australia's call for an inquiry into how the coronavirus started has reportedly received the backing of 62 countries.
A draft resolution to be put to the World Health Assembly on Tuesday, obtained by The Australian, is backed by nations including India, Japan, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Indonesia, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, and all 27 EU member states.
According to the newspaper, the resolution demands WHO director-general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus "initiate at the earliest appropriate moment … a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of the international response to the pandemic, the actions of the WHO and its "timeline" of the pandemic.
It comes as Trade Minister Simon Birmingham tried to set up a phone call with his Chinese counterpart to sort out a growing trade rift between the two countries, but so far there has been no response.
China is threatening to slap a large tariff on Australian barley imports after it blocked beef imports from four abattoirs.
Such actions have come within weeks of Australia calling for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, sparking a furious response from China.
"We've made a request for me to be able to have discussions with my Chinese counterpart," Senator Birmingham told ABC television's Insiders program today.
"That request has not been met with a call being accommodated at this stage."
However, he said there has been lots of government-to-government communication and work continues through diplomatic levels.
He said the government has lodged a comprehensive response to China's 18-month investigation into barley dumping, rejecting the suggestion that the Australian industry is subsidised.
"The idea that somehow the payments that the Australian government makes to upgrade irrigation infrastructure in the Murray-Darling Basin in any way impacts on barley prices in China, just doesn't stand the test of any analysis," the minister said.
"Our barley that goes to China is largely a product of dry land irrigation, predominantly coming out of Western Australia and the west coast of South Australia. It's not coming out of the irrigated areas of the Murray-Darling Basin."
He said he may be forced to take the issue to the World Trade Organisation if China presses ahead with its threat.
Australia has used the WTO to settle disputes as an independent umpire in the past with other valued partners around the world in recent years - with Canada in relation to certain wine practices and India over sugar.
China is Australia's number one trading partner, but Senator Birmingham said it was up to businesses to determine who they sold their goods and services to.
"I would expect that many Australian businesses off the back of some unpredictable regulatory interventions, such as those we've seen in the last couple of weeks, would start to consider whether the risk profile has changed and may, therefore, look at other markets," he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the push for an independent inquiry into the COVID-19 crisis is "completely unremarkable" and Australia will stand its ground.
But China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi has lashed out at foreign politicians for politicising the epidemic.
Former Labor trade minister Craig Emerson thought the Australian government was making a "perfectly reasonable proposition".
"I mean, is (China) serious that we don't want to know how the coronavirus started and got spread?" Dr Emerson told ABC television.
"It is not anti-China, it is pro-science, so that we learn about this particular virus on the assumption that at some time in the future, hopefully a long time into the future, there will be more outbreaks of different viruses."
Originally published as 62 nations back Aussie push for COVID-19 inquiry