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Australian drinkers in China philosophical about wine tariffs

BEIJING, Aug 19 (Reuters) - At Ossie Bar and Restaurant in east Beijing, drinkers were philosophical about China’s launch of an anti-dumping probe into Australian wine imports.

There are worries that the investigation will result in tariffs being slugged on Australian wines, a measure that would increase the already relatively high price of the country’s tipples in China.

Some customers in Ossie’s said they might think twice about purchasing Australian wine if the price goes up, but owner Steve Goodey, 64, said he’s “not particularly” worried.

“Australia’s got a big tax on their wines already so it doesn’t really matter,” Goodey, who hails from Australia’s Gold Coast, told Reuters. “People, if they want a bottle of wine and they like the wine, they don’t mind paying a bit extra.”

Plus, wine has been falling out of favour recently, as more people opted for beers and spirits, he said. The coronaviruspandemic presented a bigger problem overall, hitting sales by around 70%, he said.

China is the top market for Australian wine exports and is also Australia’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade worth A$235 billion ($170 billion) last year.

The announcement of the investigation by China’s commerce ministry knocked a fifth off the market value of Australia’s biggest winemaker, Treasury Wine Estates, and is likely to worsen tensions between the two nations.

Beijing recently imposed dumping tariffs on Australian barley, suspended some beef imports and told Chinese students and tourists it was not safe to travel to Australia because of accusations of racism.

China’s foreign ministry has rejected suggestions the wine probe was politically motivated, but patrons in Ossie’s weren’t convinced.

“It’s a lot of tit-for-tat,” said Richard, an Australian national who works in education in Beijing, who declined to give his surname. “It’s like two kids in a playground fighting over their favourite toy.”

Goodey said consumers were simply the pawns.

“It’s senseless because the only people that get affected are the working class and the people that buy (these) things,” he said. “The governments, the politicians, they don’t care.”

Reporting By Martin Pollard; editing by Jane Wardell

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