China halts Lithuania beef, dairy and beer imports amid Taiwan row

A cow in the Serra do Oribio in Triacastela, Lugo, Galicia, Spain.

China has stopped buying beef, dairy products and beer from Lithuania, authorities say, as a row deepens over the Baltic state’s ties with Taiwan.

China’s General Administration of Customs suspended the exports citing a “lack of documentation”, a Lithuanian agency said in a statement. The move comes after Lithuania let Taiwan open a de facto embassy there.

It may bolster a European Union case against China alleging discriminatory practices towards a member state. Lithuania’s State Food and Veterinary Service said it has “so far not received any notification from China that any information or data is missing”.

The agency said Chinese authorities had carried out a remote audit of Lithuanian beef and fish product exporters in 2020. It added that there were no complaints, and exports continued to run smoothly until the end of last year. No further details were provided on why sales stopped.

China-Lithuania relations soured after Lithuania allowed Taiwan to open an embassy in its capital of Vilnius in November. The embassy in Lithuania bears the name Taiwan rather than “Chinese Taipei”, the name used by many foreign nations to avoid offending China.

However, China downgraded its diplomatic relations with Lithuania days after. While Taiwan is a self-governed democratic state, Beijing sees it as part of its territory. Beijing has stepped up pressure in the past year to isolate the island from its international allies.

The move could help to advance a European Union (EU) trade case against China, which was referred to the World Trade Organization in January. The case – which has been backed by the UK, US, Australia and Canada – alleges “discriminatory trade practices” by China against Lithuania, which is a member of the EU.

These alleged practices included pressuring businesses in Europe to cut Lithuania from their supply chains. Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU’s executive vice president and commissioner for trade, said the case was necessary after “repeated failed attempts to resolve the issue bilaterally”.

Although China is the world’s largest importer of beef, it makes little of its purchases from Lithuania. It imported 775 tonnes of the meat from Lithuania last year, out of a total 2.36m tonnes of beef imports, Chinese customs data shows.

Last month, Taiwan’s government started sharing tips with the public on how to drink and cook with rum after it bought 20,000 bottles of Lithuanian rum bound for China. State-run media said Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corp purchased the rum after learning that it could be blocked from entering China.

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