Article – Aussie cattle on a Thai beef roll

11 December 2014
Colin Bettles
RETURNS to Australian cattle producers are set for a boost under new market access into Thailand for feeder and slaughter cattle, according to federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.
According to Meat and Livestock Australia’s (MLA) latest statistics, Thailand received only four head of Australian cattle from January to September last year and 229 in the same period this year.
After reaching an intergovernmental agreement on health protocols, about 30,000 head of Australian cattle could be exported to Thailand over the next year.
Mr Joyce said the new market would also reinforce his key ministry mantra of improving farmgate returns, aided by increased market competition.
He is also claiming the Thai market opening as another market victory for the Coalition, to assist with the industry’s recovery from the controversial snap suspension of cattle-trade to Indonesia in June 2011.
Since coming to power the Coalition has opened or re-opened four other markets – Egypt, Bahrain, Iran and Cambodia – in moves to diversify the trade given the perceived over reliance on Indonesia at the time of the suspension.
The Vietnam live cattle market has also been a big mover in recent times, with MLA figures for 2013-14 showing it was Australia’s second-largest cattle market taking 131,367 head (up eight-fold on 2012-13), valued at $124 million.
The next biggest market was Israel which took 108,053 head, valued at $83.7 million.
The Coalition is also on the verge of announcing an historic agreement on health protocols to kickstart a potentially lucrative live cattle deal for the Chinese market.
“At this point in time everything that we’ve done that’s been asked of us has been completed and agreed to,” Mr Joyce said last week on the Chinese live cattle market.
“We believe that the decision and final announcement of the decision is in the remit of the Chinese government and we will know it when we see it on their website.
“There is nothing more that has been asked of us that we haven’t answered and that they’re not satisfied with.”
Fifth market opened in one year
Mr Joyce said opening Australian live feeder and slaughter cattle exports to Thailand represented a significant new export opportunity for Australia’s livestock producers and was “further proof of the Coalition government’s commitment to Australian agriculture”.
“This is the fifth market we have opened this year and I expect the trade will bring mutual benefits to both our countries and will contribute to maintaining and strengthening our bilateral relationship with Thailand,” he said.
Mr Joyce said industry estimates forecast 30,000 head in the first year of exports with excellent prospects for growth which will be “good news particularly for our northern Australian producers”.
“Strong commercial interest both here and in Thailand provides good prospects that this trade will result in significant numbers of live cattle being sent,” he said.
“Now it is over to exporters to establish Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) arrangements to support appropriate animal welfare outcomes in this new market.
“Under the Thailand-Australia free trade agreement (FTA), signed by the former Howard government in 2004, tariffs on feeder and slaughter cattle dropped to zero in 2009 so the establishment of health protocols represents the removal of a significant impediment to this trade.
“What this also shows is that this government is capable of not only signing FTAs but building on them and delivering benefits in the long term,” he said.
“The opening of the Thai trade shows that the future for Australian beef and cattle is strong and I want to reassure our primary producers that we remain committed to our election promise to reinvigorate the trade and expand market access for our $1.4 billion livestock export industry.”
Mr Joyce has also claimed the Coalition has “turned around the live cattle trade”, as one of its key achievements for 2014.
According to MLA, about 526,000 head of Australian cattle in total were exported from January to September last year, but an 82 per cent increase for the same period this year has seen about 956,000 head exported.
The Indonesian market has been one of the biggest beneficiaries with about 533,000 exported in this year’s January to September period, representing an increase of 115pc.
Australian sheep exports have also increased 13pc going from 1,497,901 in that same period last year to 1,692,765 this year.
ALEC welcomes health protocol
With the first shipment of live cattle exports to Thailand expected to commence in early 2015, Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC) CEO Alison Penfold welcomed the news of an agreed health protocol.
“Australian exporters have a history of exporting breeder cattle to Thailand but have long sought access for feeder and slaughter cattle to the market,” she said.
“As an efficient producer of cattle, Thailand is a major exporter of red meat to near markets and the wider region.
“More recently, the growth in demand and increased rates of meat consumption across the region has seen the Thai cattle herd shrink, thus creating the commercial opportunity for Australian livestock exporters and producers, particularly those in the north.
“Our assessment is that the agreed protocol will support exporters to realise the commercial interest in Thailand for Australian feeder and slaughter cattle subject to the establishment of ESCAS supply chains and development of commercial arrangements.”
Ms Penfold said interested exporters are now expected to formalise assessments of suitable feedlots and abattoirs – including third party independent audits – and where necessary invest in training and infrastructure improvements to ensure facilities meet the required welfare standards.
She said subject to normal commercial factors, industry estimates that exports of cattle to Thailand are likely to reach 30,000 head in coming years.
Ms Penfold said that the past 18 months had been a particularly active time for industry and the Australian government in finalising health protocols.
She said a key ingredient to realising the true potential of Australian livestock exports was continuing market access improvements, both to new and existing markets.
“Industry through LiveCorp and the MLA/LiveCorp Live Export Program have worked with the Australian government to establish or renegotiate a range of health protocols across the live export globe,” she said.
“As part of the protocol negotiations, Australia has hosted a number of technical delegations including a Thai delegation in September this year.
“The negotiation process across a wide range of markets and species is a mammoth task for all concerned.
“On behalf of ALEC I extend our particular thanks and appreciation to the staff involved in the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Biosecurity and Live Export teams as well as industry staff in LiveCorp and MLA.
“We also wish to extend our thanks to the Minister’s Joyce and Robb for their enthusiastic and energetic efforts to open new markets to Australian agricultural products, including livestock,” she said.
“Not only does this provide commercial benefits to supply chain participants, including producers and service industries, but also enables Australian exporters to export new infrastructure and equipment, and export better handling and slaughter practices to the world.”

Courtesy of Farm Online