Australia is stuck between a rock lobster and a hard place.
Its biggest trading partner is China, expected to become the world’s biggest economy. That should be good news, but there’s a catch: Canberra also craves the security and legitimacy it gets from being allied with the United States and the West.
As Beijing and Washington target each other’s economic and military ambitions in a cycle of escalating tensions, some in Australia worry their country could pay the price for being caught between the two geopolitical foes.
Experts say those competing strategic interests and Canberra’s recent strategic shift toward the West are partly to blame for its yearlong trade war with Beijing — and plummeting lobster prices.
Until recently China accounted for around 96 percent of Australian exports of southern rock lobster, trade worth over half a billion U.S. dollars a year to the the antipodean nation.
But late last year, Beijing abruptly imposed a ban on lobster imports after Chinese officials claimed samples of the crustaceans contained heavy metals.
“We’re a pawn in the whole cycle of things,” said Andrew Ferguson, managing director of Ferguson Australia Group, a seafood company based in Adelaide, South Australia.
Losing the market has been devastating for his business.
“Covid has not been helpful,” he recently said by phone. “China certainly picked a good time to do this because it’s hurting us with the full strength of it.”
The lobster ban was swiftly…