BIG coronavirus question marks still hang over key Australian beef markets, although reports are trickling in that Chinese ports are starting to move again.
Global meat trade experts also appear to be more confident that softer demand from China will be temporary, with the protein shortage from African Swine Fever proving more potent.
Japan and Korea have now recorded cases of covid-19, the disease resulting from coronavirus, and the drop-off in people dining out is expected to take a toll on premium beef sales.
Secretary general of the International Meat Secretariat Hsin Huang, speaking in Canberra last week, said the coronavirus situation in China was starting to turn now but the Chinese recover from ASF would take longer.
"Pork is the preferred meat for the Chinese and the ASF tragedy is having very big global impacts," he said.
"A lot of Chinese people have been going without pork. Global trade is only providing a miniscule amount of what they demand. Prices have shot through the roof with consequences for the red meat sector."
Meat & Livestock Australia reports the subdued demand in China flowed through to shifts in beef export figures last month with total shipments easing 2 per cent, year-on-year in February.
One of the biggest challenges for Australian beef and sheepmeat in China has been getting product through under-staffed port bottlenecks but things are now kicking back into gear, MLA analysts said.
Cattle prices not rattled
Rural Bank believes tightening supply and strengthening restocker demand will be the dominant factors in Australian cattle markets in the short-term.
It's March 2020 Insights Update says these factors will more than offset downward pressure on finished cattle prices resulting from softer international demand for beef.
Rural Bank says softer demand from China is expected to be temporary as the shortage in protein supply resulting from ASF will see China import large volumes of beef throughout 2020.
NAB agribusiness economist Phin Ziebell said the hike in young cattle prices currently in full swing would eventually have to flow through to retail prices in Australia, although it appears the uptick has so far happened too quickly to yet be reflected.
He said beef may be headed down the same path as lamb, which has become very much a luxury item.
"It's not the end of world for producers if Australians consume less beef if they are paying more per kilogram for it and the industry also has very good export markets," he said.
THOSE in the bush are no less at risk of contracting covid-19 than their city cousins and enormous resources are being poured into preparedness.
That's the message from rural health authorities as the number of cases in Australia continues to grow.
Longreach-based Rural Doctors Association of Queensland president Dr Clare Walker said planning, including predicting what might be needed when the virus reaches outback and rural towns in a big way, is in full swing and is occurring with exceptional cross-sector co-operation involving all government departments.
The special requirements of country areas was being taken into account, she said.
For example, retrieval services are being ramped up to ensure those requiring intensive care can be relocated quickly.
"There are many unknowns with this virus and it is hard to answer just how at-risk those in rural Australia are - we have enough air traffic that it is unlikely the risks would be any different to those in cities," she said.
"The bottom line is we are expected to have local cases in country towns eventually. Restrictions around travel and isolation have been about delaying the arrival."
Asked how this virus is different from influenza strains which rip through communities every year, Dr Walker said coronavirus was completely novel, which means it has never been been seen before.
"Our bodies have zero immunity, where most have been exposed to influenza in the past and have residual immunity," she said.
"As a population we've seen versions of different flus come along but not this one.
"The combination of it being highly contagious and being novel is what has piqued the interest of the worldwide community."
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