Australia has called on G20 nations to bring an end to “wet” markets selling wildlife over concerns they pose a threat to human health and agriculture, in a move which could further strain ties with China as Canberra repeated calls for an international inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic.
The outbreak is thought to have started in a wet market in Wuhan in central China that was also selling illegal wildlife. Wet markets are a key part of daily life not only in China but across Asia. They trade in fresh vegetables, meat and fish and most do not sell wildlife.
China imposed a temporary ban on selling wildlife on January 23 and is now reviewing its legislation to restrict commercial wild animal trading on a permanent basis.
Australia’s Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud said on Thursday he had asked government officials from the G20 leading economies to back a plan to end the practice.
“There are risks with wildlife wet markets and they could be as big a risk to our agricultural industries as they can be to public health,” Littleproud told Australia’s Channel 7 television.
Officials in the United States have also called for wet wildlife markets across Asia to be closed.
Littleproud did not mention China by name, but his comments follow Australia’s push for an international inquiry into the origins and handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison repeated the “need” for an independent inquiry on Thursday, after tweeting that he had raised the issue in calls with US President Donald Trump as well as the leaders of France and Germany on Wednesday.
He said all members of the World Health Organization (WHO) should cooperate.
“If you’re going to be a member of a club like the World Health Organization, there should be responsibilities and obligations attached to that,” Morrison told reporters. “We’d like the world to be safer when it comes to viruses … I would hope that any other nation, be it China or anyone else, would share that objective.”
France and Britain have said now is the time to fight the virus, not to apportion blame. China has accused Australian politicians of taking instructions from the US.
The White House has been fiercely critical of China, and the WHO’s handling of the pandemic, and has withdrawn US funding from the UN agency.
The COVID-19 outbreak has spread to some 2.6 million people globally and left more than 183,000 dead, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Australia has about 6,600 cases of coronavirus nationally and 75 deaths from the virus.