Lobsters may be the latest victims of escalating trade tensions between Australia and China.

Tonnes of live Australian rock lobsters have been left on the tarmac at a Chinese airport.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is working with exporters to understand what is going on.

“We are aware of reports of customs clearance issues related to premium shellfish imports into China and are working closely with the industry to secure clarity on this matter,” he said in a statement on Monday.

“So far as any industry concerns imply a breach of World Trade Organisation or China-Australia Free Trade Agreement commitments, Chinese authorities should rule out the use of any such discriminatory actions.”

Chinese customs officials are believed to be testing the lobsters for trace elements of minerals and metals.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the shellfish were screened before shipping, so there was no need for the inspections.

Mr Littleproud warned the issue could take some time to resolve.

“We have serious concerns about this and we’ll ask serious questions of Chinese officials,” he told the ABC.

“We’ve become aware of this in the last couple of days in my department and our officials in Beijing have been working to get clarification.”

China has launched trade strikes against Australian beef, barley and wine in recent months.

Australian cotton and coal also appear to have been dragged into the trade dispute.