China has linked hefty tariffs on Australian barley to past disputes between the two nations, comparing track records on trade investigations.

The Chinese commerce minister said Beijing had been cautious and restrained in imposing trade “remedies”.

Zhong Shan said China had only launched one trade investigation against Australia in almost 50 years, compared to more than 100 by Australia.

But Trade Minister Simon Birmingham dismissed the comparison.

“This isn’t about keeping a tally or doing things in a tit-for-tat way,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.

“Yes, Australia has an anti-dumping system that we use. Our decisions are open to appeal through the World Trade Organisation. China has not chosen to do that with any of our decisions to date.”

Senator Birmingham has been trying to speak to his Chinese counterpart about the barley dispute for several weeks.

His phone calls have been ignored.

“That still hasn’t been scheduled and it remains disappointing,” he said.

“The Australian government will always front up to have a conversation, even where we have disagreements. We think the best way to move through those disagreements is to engage in dialogue.”

The minister is weighing up whether to take China’s 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley to the WTO.

China has also suspended beef imports from four Australian abattoirs after the federal government called for a global independent inquiry into the origins of coronavirus.