China lifts ban on Australian beef plants

Beef Central, by Jon Condon, 30 October 2017

THE Departments of Trade and Agriculture are expected tomorrow to announce the lifting of China’s suspension of six large Australian red meat export plants, imposed unexpectedly back in July.

The abattoirs involved in the July delisting included JBS Australia’s Beef City and JBS Primo facilities in Queensland and NSW respectively; Kilcoy Pastoral Co in Queensland; Northern Cooperative Meat Co at Casino NSW; Australian Country Choice in Brisbane; and Thomas Foods International’s Murray Bridge, SA plant.

Collectively, the six de-listed plants took around 30 percent of Australia’s exports to China out of the market. Some estimates have put the total loss of the China market for the businesses as high as $1 million per day.

Beef Central understands a government statement will be issued tomorrow morning detailing the breakthrough.

Historically, trade into China cannot resume until China’s Certification and Accreditation Administration (CNCA) puts the plant names back up on their approved list on their website, which has not yet occurred. But technically, the suspensions have in fact been lifted, Beef Central has been told by reliable sources.

The Australian Meat Industry Council would not provide a comment on the trade breakthrough when approached this afternoon.

Trade minister Steven Ciobo was being praised in industry circles tonight for his handling of the negotiations, as was the Department of Agriculture’s export division first assistant secretary Fran Freeman, who took over in that role from Greg Read in June.

There was high expectation that a breakthrough might occur over the delistings during Minister Ciobo’s visit to China in September for the Joint Ministerial Economic Commission between Australia and the People’s Republic of China, but that ultimately came to nothing.

Part of the process from here for Australia is to determine when trade actually re-commences, and exactly what the protocols should be to make sure these types of regulatory issues do not occur again. It is not yet clear whether trade can recommence immediately, or whether a date is yet to be set.

High level government-to-government discussions will take place in Australia on November 19, which trade sources are hopeful will lead to another breakthrough in China beef trade, in the number of Australian plants eligible for chilled access. Currently that list is heavily restricted to just ten plants.

With the expansion of Australia’s overall chilled beef trade into China looking imminent, some stakeholders claim discussions need to focus on establishing an orderly process, to protect Australian interests, and avoid episodes like the blanket international ban on chilled beef exports into China, which occurred in September 2013 (see Beef Central’s earlier item).

The US, for example, currently enjoys the benefit of a ‘three-day rule,’ where discussions take place between the two governments before any action, such as a delisting, can take place. Australia does not currently have such an agreement.

July suspensions took industry by surprise

Red meat processors and trade personnel were taken by surprise by China’s July 25 delisting of six Australian export beef plants, and struggled to determine the reasons behind the regulatory decision.

The earlier suspensions were said to be mostly labelling-related, and were not linked to residues, contaminants or HGP issues. Some involved only a handful of cartons each, with apparent inconsistencies between carton and inner cryovac bag labels.

Total beef exports to China for the year to the end of September totalled 74,821 tonnes, ranking it fourth largest among Australian export destinations.