ALMOST 400 stakeholders from Australia’s livestock export industry have mustered in Townsville this week for the first national LiveXchange conference.
The event comes at a pivotal time for the industry, as it aims to capitalise on one of the most promising export demand outlooks in recent years while defending its animal welfare credentials in the face of unrelenting campaigns by animal rights activists and their political supporters to end the trade.
After what has been arguably the toughest two years in the industry’s history following the June 2011 suspension of the trade to Indonesia on welfare grounds and the impact of weight limits and quota restrictions by the major market, the northern live export trade is suddenly seeing a far more positive picture for demand ahead.
In the past week Indonesia has initiated the release of permits for an additional 100,000 feeder and slaughter cattle for import by December 31.
This adds to the significant demand for slaughter cattle that has emerged in 2013 from Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia.
Last year Vietnam took less than 3500 cattle, but this year will take close to 50,000. Malaysia is on track to import around 40,000 head for the 2013 calendar year and the Philippines around 20,000.
Growth in these markets is considered likely to be sustained as a growing appetite for beef in South East Asia, and particularly China, creates a vacuum throughout the region that importers are increasing looking to nearby Australian cattle and beef to fill.
Against the improved demand outlook is the fact that the industry remains on something of a knife-edge politically, as animal welfare and rights activists continually search for any example of mistreatment of Australian animals in export markets they can find to discredit the trade.
The industry is facing unprecedented pressure to be able to demonstrate to the public that its commitment to animal welfare is genuine.
The introduction of the mandatory Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System which requires all exporters to meet Australian Government approved welfare standards in all foreign markets has helped to shore up the industry’s future, but there is also a push from within the industry to introduce a higher level of risk management and quality assurance to help those exporters who are going above and beyond the requirements of ESCAS to demonstrate that.
Queensland Livestock Exporters Association chairman Justin Slaughter from Austrex told a welcome gathering in Townsville last night that the inaugural event has been organised to allow stakeholders from across the industry to exchange, and challenge each other on, ideas that will form the basis of the industry into the future.
Speakers at the conference over the next two days will include recently appointed minister for agriculture Barnaby Joyce, NAB agribusiness economist Vyanne Lai, LiveCorp chair Roly Nieper, NQ cattle producer and former MLA chair Don Heatley, MLA Indonesia region manager John Ackerman, Pathways Agribusiness Consulting’s Tim Kelf discussing exports in China, Derek Bolton from the World Organisation for Animal Health; Murdoch University animal welfare lecturer Leisha Hewitt and Dicky Adiwoso and Greg Pankhurst who run substantial lot feeding operations in Indonesia.