The Federal Government says a deal is yet to be done on a new beef cattle export trade with China despite encouraging indications from industry that a breakthrough agreement has been reached.
Beef Central has been told by several industry sources that a draft protocol was agreed to during technical negotiations between Australian and Chinese officials in Melbourne last week.
The draft protocol is said to be yet to be ratified by both countries, which must occur before it can be formally signed and officially implemented.
Speculation of a pending protocol agreement dominated discussions at the LiveXChange conference in Melbourne last week. Suggestions were also made in public that an agreement had been reached but no one at official level was prepared to confirm that speculation.
A spokesperson for agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce told Beef Central this morning that an agreement has not yet been signed.
“At this point nothing has been signed, we are still talking to the Chinese, it is a really sensitive and delicate negotiation,” the spokesperson said.
“At this point we are hopeful that there will be movement on this soon, but we have to be careful as Government not to speak too soon and not to pre-empt the outcome of these talks.”
Australia exported about 70,000 cattle to China last year, a combination of mainly dairy heifers and some beef breeding cattle.
Negotiations to develop a protocol that would open the way for Australian feeder and slaughter cattle exports to China have progressed slowly, with discussions primarily focused on addressing Chinese concerns around the Bluetongue virus.
Australian negotiators and epidemiologists have been working with Chinese officials in recent years to explain that the serotypes of Bluetongue that are of concern to China do not exist in Australia, and that Australia’s freedom from these serotypes is underpinned by a world class surveillance program with over 30 years of surveillance history.
A delegation of high level Chinese scientists and senior Government officials toured Australia in recent weeks to see first hand how Bluetongue in Australia is managed.
The opening of a trade to China is likely to create significant additional demand for Australian cattle, and will provide an important new level of market diversification for Australia’s northern live cattle export industry in particular, which in the past has suffered from its heavy reliance on a single market.
“If beef demand in China takes off, there probably isn’t enough cattle in Australia to keep up,” Northern Territory primary industries minister Willem Westra van Holthe, said last week.