RED meat exporters are ramping up efforts to strengthen commercial ties with China and smooth the way for improved chilled access, with all signs pointing to growing, high-value demand.
Against a background of modest progress in getting chilled beef into China, exporters have been investing in reconnaissance work on strategic alliances that will sit outside the usual government-to-government initiatives.
The thinking is the sector needs a stronger presence in trade negotiation, relationships and intelligence given the substantial potential of the market.
Peak body the Australian Meat Industry Council has visited China and the reports are beef consumption is likely to grow in the high single digits annually, with Australia well-poised to meet the higher-end demand once chilled access is over the line.
Since a ‘watershed moment’ deal was struck more than a year ago between China and Australia to significantly lift the number of Australian plants approved to the supply the chilled market, no additional registrations have eventuated.
AMIC chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said exporter-to-importer relationships were very strong and Australia was continuing to see strong results for frozen product across sheep and beef.
Year-to-August beef export volumes to China were 103,000 tonnes shipping weight, up 55 per cent on the same period last year; lamb was 37,500t, up 18pc and mutton 25,000t, up 116pc.
The Chinese were receptive to the concerns from Australian exporters over chilled access but had called for patience, Mr Hutchinson said.
“We need to be respective of the bureaucratic processes in China, keeping in mind they have a population in the billions,” he said.
“China has just done a major restructure in all government departments and that is still being bedded down.”
Mr Hutchinson said there was a broad stretch of Australian product offerings in supermarkets and restaurants.
“We saw it being sliced and served as steak in a supermarket, where customers come in and buy the meat and can take it away with knowledge of how to cook it effectively.
“This is very promising. China is rapidly changing, with technological advances in food preparation and storage and changes in taste.
“We need to be at the forefront of those trends.”
Once chilled protocols are ratified, Australian would need to be on its game, with supply and price the two key factors, he said.
“They know we provide a fantastic, high-integrity product but with our high costs to operate, we face strong competition from countries like Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina, so we need to continually strengthen our position,” Mr Hutchinson said.
Can Australia benefit from Trump’s trade war with China?
“It’s not quantifiable,” Mr Hutchinson said.
“We can see there is a cloud hanging over the US-China relationship but right now it is a frozen commodity market for us so we have to remain vigilant in cold supply chain logistics and training, making sure people understand the best way to handle our product and see the value.”
As well as the chilled meat sector, there were opportunities for smallgoods manufacturers from Australia to export to a burgeoning Chinese market, Mr Hutchinson reported.
“The commercial relationships we are developing are intended to complement the ongoing government-to-government negotiations are demonstrate the Australian meat industry’s commitment to supporting the important Chinese need for food security and food safety,” he said.