China has suspended imports from four Australian abattoirs in an escalation of trade tensions between the two nations.

The suspension comes days after China announced plans to slap an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley.

China is Australia’s number one market for beef by volume, with exports worth more than $3 billion a year.

The Australian Meat Industry Council has put the suspension down to labelling issues.

“While not desirable, we have dealt with issues of this nature before and are working closely with the commonwealth,” chief executive Patrick Hutchinson told AAP.

“This is a trade and market access issue that is being led by the commonwealth.”

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham was blindsided by the ban.

“It’s disappointing that no notification was given prior to that suspension taking effect today,” he told reporters.

The minister is working with the meat processers involved to rectify the labelling issues and get their permits reinstated.

“We are concerned that the suspensions appear to be based on highly technical issues, which in some cases date back more than a year,” he said.

“I’ve been speaking with industry leaders, colleagues and departments overnight to formulate a comprehensive response.

“We will work with industry and authorities in both Australia and China to seek to find a solution that allows these businesses to resume their normal operations as soon as possible.”

Diplomatic relations between Australia and China have rapidly deteriorated after Prime Minister Scott Morrison began pushing for a global inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.

Earlier this month, Beijing’s ambassador warned Chinese people would reconsider buying Australian beef if Mr Morrison continued calling for the investigation.

The four meatworks involved – JBS Dinmore, JBS Beef City, Kilcoy and Northern Cooperative Meat Company – account for roughly 35 per cent of Australian beef exports.