CLAIMS made by the Opposition in Federal Parliament yesterday that containers of Australian beef are about to be stranded on Chinese wharves, following last month’s suspension of Australian meat processing plants are incorrect, Beef Central has been told.
Shadow agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon told parliament yesterday that volumes of Australian product was sitting on boats off China, due to inaction by the Federal Government over the technical trade issue that broke last month.
That statement was untrue, the Australian Meat Industry Council told Beef Central this morning.
The claims came during a Labor attack on agriculture minister Barnaby’s Joyce’s ‘legitimacy’ to sit in parliament under the cloud of his NZ citizenship which blew up on Monday, and claimed lack of performance by the minister over issues like last month’s China beef access issue.
“As we speak there are boats sitting off the coast of China with frozen beef on board, because they have been denied access to the China market,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“When these things occur, they (exporters) need to know… that they have an agriculture minister on watch who is able to deal with these issues in a full legal capacity. And those exporters of that beef today will be asking themselves whether (1) they have a minister representing them with that legal capacity and (2) whether they have a minister who is taken seriously in China and in other export markets,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
In a surprise move, China on 27 July announced temporary suspensions of six Australian beef and sheepmeat plants over minor technical issues to do with labelling and description (see Beef Central’s earlier report). Some of the breaches involved just one or two cartons, where inner labels did not exactly match outer carton labels, for example.
Given the typical seafreight shipment time to China from Australia, it’s about now that any problems with access for the affected plants might occur since the suspension was imposed – but the Australian Meat Industry Council told Beef Central this morning that none of the six exporters had reported any such issues.
An AMIC spokesman said there was no issue over access for any Australian product shipped to China before 24 July, the day the suspension was imposed.
‘Very small’ volumes of product may have been already in transit on 24 July, the day of the suspension, but the bulk, if not all, of that product had been successfully diverted to other export markets, AMIC said.
“There’s a minute volume of beef caught in this shipment window after the suspension was enacted on 24 July. Most, if not all of that has now been sold elsewhere. Within that, there may be an even smaller volume of product sitting on a wharf in China, but even if that’s true, regulator-to-regulator discussions would be working on that, and it would simply likely be reshipped to another market.”
“But the volume is insignificant, and certainly nothing to get concerned about. The six exporters involved have in fact done a great job in managing those very small consignments under question. They have found homes for it, causing no great disruption. Some of it has simply been offloaded at earlier ports, en route to China, such as Korea,” the AMIC spokesman said.
He said there had been no real progress yet in managing the broader issues behind last month’s surprise market access suspensions.
“All we know is that a report on the interventions to meet the requirements as set out by the Chinese regulators has been provided. They are now going through the usual processes of reviewing those, and we remain hopeful that trade will resume soon,” he said.
Following the six plant suspensions last month, all red meat export processors servicing the China market had redoubled their efforts to closely conform with China’s documentation requirements, and there had been no further reports of compliance issues, the AMIC contact said.