THE COST of the more than 200 unjustified barriers preventing Australian beef and lamb exporters from accessing potentially lucrative markets has skyrocketed to an incredible $3.4 billion, it was revealed at a major industry conference in Sydney.
That equates to 15 per cent of the gross domestic product of Australia’s red meat industry, to put it in perspective.
Frankly speaking, Australia is getting a raw deal, according to market access issues expert Rob Williams.
Non-tariff barriers (NTBs) was highlighted as a key issue affecting the red meat industry’s international competitiveness, delegates at the Australian Meat Processor Corporation’s inaugural Vital Ingredient Sustainability Conference heard.
Mr Williams said a new industry study, about to be released, has shown Australia was now dealing with 245 NTBs in 40 key markets, compared to 136 three years ago.
While the beef industry celebrated the North Asia Free Trade Agreement trifecta - Japan, Korea and China - the reality was “if you have burdensome other barriers those FTA wins don’t mean a lot to you personally as an individual company,” he said.
NTBs cover the likes of over-the-top food safety protocols and unnecessary animal disease and welfare standards.
The fact Australia only has 11 establishments accredited to send chilled meat to China is costing $39m, China’s tripe ban $31m and Mexico’s flat stacking sheep and goat carcase requirement $27m.
“The key thing is some countries have an advantage over us where NTBs are concerned,” Mr Williams, technical counsel with the Australian Meat Industry Council, said.
“Brazil has regained access to China despite dubious foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) status and Indian buffalo has gained access to Indonesia, a country which is FMD-free where India is not.”
Red meat processors have funded a resource to tackle NTBs, via the Industry Market Access and Advisory Committee.
The aim, said Mr Williams, was to bring strategic focus to the issue and set up projects that would tackle those barriers where the greatest effect was possible.
The committee’s focus in on China, the Middle East and Indonesia.
Manager industry and corporate affairs with Teys Australia John Langbridge said exporters might send products from the same carcase to as many as 50 different markets.
“Different cultures have different consumption demands and broad market access allows beef exporters the ability to sell into the market offering the best price for a particular cut or product,” he said.
“At the moment, for example, the best price for liver is Egypt, for tongue it is Japan and for manufacturing meat it is the United States.
“If we can’t sell into that Egyptian market because we don’t have Halal accreditation, we could be losing $5 a head.
“We kill eight million head a year so that is $40m a year. It doesn’t take much for small losses to add up.
“Australia exports 70pc of its beef so we want the only measures stopping trade to be genuine food safety and biosecurity.”
Mr Williams agreed.
“What we want is open and free trade based on science and true risk,” he said.
“Australia has an enviable status around the world - arguably the best food safety systems and highest animal welfare standards.
“Our products are freely consumed in Australia and should be by others around the world.”
Gradual ground was being made on bringing down the barriers but the wheels turn slowly, Mr Langbridge said.
“Pure resilience and not taking no for an answer is the only way,” he said.