FEDERAL Trade Minister Steven Ciobo says China’s ban on six Australian beef importers remains unresolved following recent direct, high-level discussions between government officials, but hopes remain that it’ll be sorted soon.
Mr Ciobo visited China last week for trade talks where he raised the suspension - placed on Australian beef exporters to the booming market in late July, due to what’s believed to be labelling related issues – directly with China’s Commerce Minister Zhong Shan.
While the beef import ban was addressed and a recent audit report has looked into it, Mr Ciobo said discussions at the Joint Ministerial Economic Commission and the Strategic Economic Dialogue last week had also reinforced the “tremendous” economic potential of the China/Australia relationship.
“I was buoyed by China’s strong recommitment to trade and investment liberalisation,” he said.
“I took the opportunity to raise the ongoing moratorium on the six affected Australian facilities.
“China noted they were appreciative of the (audit) report from the Australian government and they were working through it.
“Although it wasn’t resolved during this trip, China indicated that they hoped to be able to resolve this soon.
“Obviously I am seeking to restore normal trade as soon as possible again.
“The Chinese have been very engaging on this issue and very good to work with.”
The federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources audited the six banned beef facilities that were visited by its senior veterinarians, to verify corrective actions taken to address non-compliance issues.
Following the audits, the department verified that all six facilities had met China’s importing country requirements and a report was then delivered to China outlining corrective actions implemented, by each of the establishments.
In 2016, the value of Australia’s beef exports to China was $670 million.
China is currently Australia’s largest market for agricultural and food exports like wool, beef, sheep meat, dairy products and grains but is a notoriously challenging market to manage for exporters, to meet various stringent import requirements.
While the China-Australia Free Trade agreement that came into force in 2015 has reduced tariffs on exported farm products like dairy and beef – non-tariff barriers remain in place and thwart opportunities to expand trade.
Cattle Council of Australia President Howard Smith said he welcomed Mr Ciobo’s talks last week about lifting the beef ban to China that was largely due to labelling issues.
“It’s critical we get it resolved,” he said.
“Six of those plants have been suspended and it’s crucial we get that suspension lifted.
“I believe it’s a number one priority to try to get that resolved in a timely manner.”
Mr Smith said it also seemed other countries had trade issues resolved quicker than Australia’s and suggested a dedicated Taskforce of government and industry officials could be implemented, to help break deadlocks sooner.
“If there’s anything government and industry can do to get a better system in place so they can address these types of trade issues faster, and deal with problems that occur, like some form of a taskforce or mechanism where we can get in there and resolve it for everyone’s benefit, we’d welcome that,” he said.