China live ex deal moves closer

06 Nov, 2014 05:20 PM
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China's beef imports are poised to rise by almost 1000 per cent over the next 40 years

AN agreement on biosecurity protocols underpinning Australian live cattle exports to China is inching closer towards resolution, which would open a potentially lucrative market opportunity for local producers.

Long-running negotiations between the two countries over bluetongue virus (BTV) could soon be resolved, opening the way for exports of feeder and slaughter cattle into China.

China already sources Australian dairy and beef cows for breeding purposes, buying more than 78,000 head of dairy cattle and about 15,000 beef cattle last financial year.

Industry sources believe the agreement could see about 1 million head of cattle exported annually to China due to rapidly growing demand for beef.

Talks 'progressing well'

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the Chinese market carries massive earning potential for Australian producers, along with other markets like Indonesia and Vietnam, but stressed a deal has not yet been signed off.

A spokesperson for the Minister said negotiations between the Australian and Chinese governments to establish protocols for live cattle exports to China were progressing well.

The negotiations began more than 10 years ago and have been discussed in detail with Chinese government authorities over the last six months, the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said he was confident protocols and certification requirements were close to being finalised.

In the meantime, Australian livestock exports are experiencing record highs: from September 2013 to October 2014 the trade was worth $1.4 billion, the spokesperson said.

Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive Alison Penfold said exporters were looking forward to achieving a resolution of the animal health protocols, to allow feeder and slaughter cattle exports into China.

“We see the huge potential of this market,” she said.

An agreement on BTV protocols is also expected to open the door for feeder and slaughter cattle exports from southern as well as northern Australian regions.

The Chinese market would also provide vital competition for northern cattle producers who already export large volumes into Indonesia, where demand is also expanding, placing upward pressure on prices.

Sheep most affected by BTV

Australia exported around 12,000 tonnes of mostly lamb and sheepmeat into the China market in 2004-05, according to Meat and Livestock Australia.

But last year more than 160,000 tonnes of beef, more than 100,000 tonnes of lamb and sheepmeat and 94,000 live Australian cattle were exported to China, worth over $1.4 billion.

This year’s Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics and Science (ABARES) outlook conference reported China's beef imports are poised to rise by almost 1000 per cent over the next 40 years.

While the BTV isn’t a threat to China’s cattle herd, the protective measures are designed to safeguard the country’s sheep flock, understood to be the world’s largest at about 140 million head.

Bluetongue is an insect-borne, viral disease that can affect sheep, goats, deer and cattle. Sheep are the most seriously affected species, with infection resulting in clinical disease and mortalities. Most infections in cattle are unapparent.

Reports say a Chinese government delegation recently visited Australia to meet local officials and investigate technical aspects of BTV and local production systems, in light of reaching an agreement on health protocols for cattle importation.

The ongoing health protocol discussions are independent of last-minute free trade agreement negotiations with China this week, involving Australian agricultural representatives in Beijing.

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FarmOnline
Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media

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