BARNABY Joyce has written to Australian meat exporters reading the riot act about further failure to comply legally with foreign import standards and regulations that underpin the multi-billion dollar trade into China and other Asian markets.
Mr Joyce signed the sternly worded letter as one of his final acts as Agriculture and Water Resources Minister last week before being disqualified from federal parliament due to his dual NZ citizenship issue.
His absence is expected to only be temporary but it has left Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in charge of the farm portfolio while the Nationals leader campaigns to try to win his by-election for New England on December 2.
The timely meat export warning letter was also issued by Mr Joyce to an unknown number of facilities immediately after China lifted its controversial suspension on six of seven Australian facilities banned from the market due to labelling non-compliance issues about three months’ ago, which is understood to account for about 30 per cent of beef exports to China.
Amid the Chinese suspension, Australian meat industry officials have undertaken intense lobbying in federal parliament focussed largely on Mr Joyce and Trade Minister Steven Ciobo, aimed at getting the suspensions overturned rapidly given it was reportedly costing exporters about $1 million per day.
Mr Joyce’s correspondence pointed out why the federal government had expended considerable resources, to try to resolve the non-compliance issues underpinning the shock trade disruption, in endeavouring to resume exports to China.
But the outspoken rural political figure also expressed concern and disappointment that despite the initial suspension in July due to labelling issues, more instances of non-compliances had surfaced.
He stressed any such matters must be reported to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources promptly, to ensure a quick and effective response.
Mr Joyce’s letter also stated it was vital to the Australian meat export industry’s sustainability that market confidence in inspection and certification systems be maintained, while giving a pointed warning about the strict need to fully comply with China’s import requirements at all times.
He also delivered an unambiguous message about the inherent financial risk and trade damage associated with jeopardising the Australian agricultural industry’s broader reputation for exporting clean, green and safe foods into Asian markets, by meat exporters ignoring the higher standards of those importing nations, not just China, and breaching their regulatory requirements.
Australian Meat Industry Council CEO Patrick Hutchinson declined to comment on Mr Joyce’s letter but acknowledged it existed and had been sent direct to the individually listed companies that export to China, saying it was more appropriate for them to comment.
But following the lifting of the trade ban this week, AMIC issued a statement where Chair Lachie Hart claimed his group was the “peak industry council representing the red meat export sector”.
“We are the largest beef exporter and provide a large amount to this country’s GDP,” he said.
In the wake of the Chinese ban, the Department has also advised meat export establishments of strengthened verification and audit procedures needed for facilitating Chinese meat exports, which carry strict legal implications.
The Department issued the Meat Notice on October 6, during Mr Joyce’s reign, which outlined the enhanced verification procedures required, for Australian establishments listed to export meat products to China.
“The enhanced verification and audit procedures outlined in this notice are intended to provide increased assurance that China’s importing country requirements are met, particularly around accuracy of certification and consistency in labelling,” it said.
The notice was issued to all abattoirs registered and listed for exporting meat products to China, pointing out management responsibilities around system controls on labelling standards, compliance and reporting of any breaches, related the Chinese market.
“Notify the department, through the weekly meeting with the On Plant Veterinary Officer (OPV), of any point of entry notifications about non-compliance, that have been received from any of the following: China’s AQSIQ; the exporter; the importer; other customers,” it says.
‘Conduct regular internal audits of Chinese importing country requirements, relating to production and labelling and notify the OPV of findings, including non-conformances at the weekly meeting.”
In 2016, Australian beef exports to China were worth $670m while 1 million tonnes of beef was exported valued at $7.4 billion was exported to all markets, according to Meat and Livestock Australia figures.
In the same period, lamb and mutton exports reached $2.44b combined, totalling about 380,000t, while China was Australia’s fourth largest beef export destination and top of the list for mutton and second for lamb.
Mr Ciobo said lifting of the ban on six facilities that export to China was “great news”.
“This year the Chinese authorities said because some facilities weren't complying with China's import standards around labelling - I should make it clear, it wasn't about food safety (it was) about labelling - they put a ban in effect,” he said.
“We've had that lifted now.
“A lot of work's gone into this and we've done it a pretty tight amount of time and I'm grateful for Chinese authorities who worked alongside us to get us back on track.
“This is such an important part of our economy.
“Of course getting Aussie beef onto the shelves in China, a massive consumer market, this really powers regional economies, especially in regional Queensland, regional NSW, the NT, across the length and breadth of our country.
“There's a lot of competitors but, you know what, nothing's quite as good as an Aussie steak.”
The Department said lifting of the China suspension for the six Australian meat establishments was “a positive outcome which reflects the high level of cooperation between Chinese and Australian authorities and our industry”.
“The department acted quickly to verify corrective actions taken by affected establishments and worked closely with Chinese authorities to have import inspections resume,” it said.
“Australia has an excellent relationship with China, including when it comes to resolving trade matters.
“We respect the Chinese government’s strong commitment to food safety for their consumers and understand the importance of meeting their import requirements.”