Beef exports on ice

Tensions between Australia and its biggest trading partner rise as China suspends import licences of four beef producers

12 May 2020 | Staff Writers (Image: Victoria Shes)

The immediate future of Australia’s $3 billion plus beef exports to China is uncertain after China suspended beef import licences of three Queensland and one New South Wales meatworks.

The Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) reports the total volume being by these four producers fluctuates but presently represents around one-fifth of total beef exports to China. AMIC CEO, Patrick Hutchinson says total beef exports to China, from the beginning of this year up until the end of April are in fact 10% higher than record level reached in 2019.

In a statement, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says the Government was notified yesterday and the suspensions relate to labelling and health certificate requirements.

“We are concerned that the suspensions appear to be based on highly technical issues, which in some cases date back more than a year,” the statement said.

“I’ve been speaking with industry leaders, colleagues and departments overnight to formulate a comprehensive response.”

“We will work with industry and authorities in both Australia and China to seek to find a solution that allows these businesses to resume their normal operations as soon as possible.”

Similar beef bans imposed in 2017

The four meatworks, Kilcoy Pastoral Company, Beef City, Dinmore and the New South Wales’ Northern Cooperative Meat Company, were among six producers whose import licenses were suspended by China, over similar technical issues, in 2017.

AMIC’s Patrick Hutchison told AAP, “While not desirable, we have dealt with issues of this nature before and are working closely with the commonwealth.

“This is a trade and market access issue that is being led by the commonwealth.”

Earlier this week, China’s Ministry of Commerce announced it plans to impose an 80% tariff on Australian barely exports. That decision arose out of a trade dispute which dates back to December 2018, when the China Chamber of International Commerce, alleged that barley producers had contravened WTO regulations, by dumping product on to the Chinese market.  

They claimed indirect government subsidies in Australia allowed producers to sell at below market rates. Australian producers and the Minister for Trade rejected those allegations.   

Southern Queensland University’s Ben Lyons has told the ABC, “I always find it a little bit ironic that when they ban meat plants, there’s one of them that’s Chinese-invested, in the Kilcoy abattoir, so it’s not as orchestrated as we think sometimes.”