Elders China head provides reality check for export trade aspirants

Jon Condon, 03/11/2016
Elder China's Craig Aldous, with interpreter, addresses last week's TSBE Access China conference in Shanghai

Elder China’s Craig Aldous, with interpreter, addresses last week’s TSBE Access China conference in Shanghai


ELDERS China head Craig Aldous provided a sobering reality check for TSBE Access China participants hoping to make a start to export business while in Shanghai for last week’s trade mission.

Shanghai-based Mr Aldous has lived permanently in China since 2007 and in that time has been instrumental in tripling the sales of Elders’ food business in the country.

He first came to China in 1992 on a language scholarship to complete his bachelor degree in International Business, before returning to Australia to run his family’s abattoir and meat distribution company in Queensland.

Through his years spent in China, Mr Aldous has gained strong experience with market access issues and the legal and regulatory framework for food processing and distribution in the country.

Elders was one of the pioneers of the Australian red meat trade into China, establishing a trading office in Shanghai about 15 years ago – long before the 2013 trigger-point ion when a serious volume trade in beef emerged.

Mr Aldous had some sage advice for participants in last week’s TSBE trade mission with aspirations to quickly establish business in the China market.

“Despite the hype and excitement that you might read in the press back in Australia, the reality is that doing business on the ground in China is a tough and competitive environment, and a simplistic view to doing business simply does not work,” he warned.

“If this is your first visit to China, and you are expecting to return to Australia with a great new business deal, then I’m sorry to tell you that you’re going to leave disappointed. If you do go home with a deal, maybe something’s wrong,” he said.

Understanding the reality

In order to understand what the reality was on the ground in China, it was important for new or prospective Australian exporters to spend time in the market – researching, investigating and learning from people who had probably made the mistakes already.

“We operate under a very different regulatory environment in China, and when combined with different culture and language, geographic diversity, complex supply chains, different standards and business ethics, then you have a cocktail of ingredients that can mess up all your best intended plans,” he told the gathering.

“Many prospective exporters get side-tracked by enticing opportunities that appear to present themselves everywhere in China.”

“Due to the complexity of doing business here, you need to give yourself a longer timeframe to achieve your goals, have deep pockets and be well capitalised in case things go wrong – because they often do.”

Having a clear plan and understanding objectives was very important, he said.

“Many prospective exporters get side-tracked by enticing opportunities that appear to present themselves everywhere in China. They can lose focus on what it was they set out to achieve in the first place. The end result is generally a failure,” Mr Aldous said.

“While all this sounds like common sense and applies to any market in the world, I’m continually amazed by how many calm and rational Australian business people arrive in China and throw all caution to the wind, evolving into raging bulls after they sense an opportunity.”

He said the statistics to do with the size and scope of the China consumer market could often be mind-blowing, due to the pace of economic growth and sheer size of the population.

Participants in last week's TSBE Access China trade mission conference

Participants in last week’s TSBE Access China trade mission conference

“Inaccuracies and inconsistencies in these statistics do exist – but there is one undeniable truth, and that is that there is a large and growing middle class in China with growing disposable income, that is directed more and more towards consumption.”

More and more Chinese people had the money and confidence to spend, and engage with the rest of the world, Mr Aldous said.

“This provides massive opportunities for Australian companies, and we should all be very excited about our future potential. I’m sure that many of you recognise this already, and that’s why you’re here this week,” he said.

Mr Aldous said in reality, China’s rise as a global economic power over the last 20 years, and its desire to be the number one economy in the world this century simply restored it to a position that it had filled for most of the last 5000 years.

“Initiatives like the successful signing of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement are a push in the right direction for business between Australia and China,” he said.

“However many barriers to trade still exist. Just in the agriculture space alone, there is a long list of products that are still not able to enter the China market. Much more work still needs to be done in this whole access area.

“The best way to speed-up this process is to encourage Chinese investment in key sectors of the Australian (agricultural) economy,” Mr Aldous said.

“For a product (like chilled beef) where access is currently restricted into China, if a Chinese investor acquires or invests in a business in Australia that is exporting that product to other markets, then the chances of it getting access are dramatically improved,” he said.

Mr Aldous referred to Zhongufu’s investment in the latest stage of the Ord River Scheme as a shining beacon that could be pointed to in the future as a model for the potential that could be achieved in agriculture with Chinese investment in Australia.

“I’ve read about your plans to build processing facilities to add value to produce sourced from agricultural assets that Zhongufu has acquired in the Kimberley region, and then to export these products to China,” he told company representatives at the trade conference.

“The jobs and exports these investments will generate will make a strong contribution to the advancement of our nation, and to the development of regional Australia,” he said.


About Elders China

  • Elders China, previously Elders Fine Foods, imports premium Australian Wagyu, Angus and other beef, both grassfed and grainfed, plus lamb and veal from Australian supply chains for distribution directly to high-end hotel chains, restaurants and bars throughout mainland China.
  • The company operates a modern meat processing facility in Shanghai where it portion-controls steaks and manufactures hamburger patties and sausages.
  • Elders China has offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Sanya, Chengdu and Shenyang, and purpose-built warehouses in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Sanya. Its Shanghai warehouse and distribution facility has a holding capacity for 120 tonnes of Australian meat.


TSB 1601016 Supercharter 2016 Logo Update_FinalBeef Central’s Jon Condon spent five days in Shanghai last week as part of the Toowoomba & Surat Basin Enterprise Access China trade mission.






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  1. Bruce Redpath, 05/11/2016

    What a great explanation of of dealing with the Chinese re the meat imports Can Mr Aldous or Beef Central provide information on the reasons for the major difficulties in the Live Export of Cattle into China
    Is it AQUIS , Chinese Protocol demands etc We are led to believe the demand is huge for our Livestock ,Whose fault is it that LE has virtually stopped .

  2. David Boyd, 04/11/2016

    What a load of common sense and intelligence! Great advice from someone who clearly knows what they are talking about and has the courage to spell it out. Makes me think of Australian woolgrowers of the past who after visiting one European woollen mill thought they understood the European processing industry!

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