Export beef trade through the Port of Brisbane for calendar year 2012 reached a new record high, with chilled and frozen containers carrying 683,747 tonnes of beef passing through the nation’s fastest growing port facility by December 30.
Official statistics requested by Beef Central from the port’s operating company show volumes were up more than 1.4 percent (10,600 tonnes) on the previous 2011 export year, and almost 3pc on the year before that.
The record should come as no great surprise, as it corresponds closely with Australia’s overall beef export record last calendar, totalling 963,800t to overseas customers by December 30. That total national export figure was up 1.5pc year-on year.
Chilled and frozen beef traffic through Port of Brisbane reached the new record despite tough trading conditions for beef exporters, with the A$ averaging almost US103.6c for the year, and flat demand into important markets like Japan, Korea, Indonesia and Russia.
The percentage increase in volume last year partly reflects a difficult start to 2011 following Queensland’s natural disasters, which closed the port outright for a week and disrupted trade flows in beef due to damage to outlying road, rail and other infrastructure.
The latest calendar year results highlighted the red meat industry’s overwhelming reliance on Brisbane as the main departure-point for beef exports to key volume destinations in Asia and North America.
The statistics outlined above suggest almost 71 percent of Australia’s entire export beef trade now passes through the port. Shorter shipping distance to northern hemisphere ports and the sheer concentration of beef processing operations in the port’s catchment area are the main reasons, exporters say.
Beef product is hubbed into Port of Brisbane by road and rail from all of Queensland’s export processing establishments stretching from Townsville in the north to Warwick, Dinmore and Beenleigh in the south. There is also considerable cross border traffic out of export licensed abattoirs in NSW.
While POB’s chilled beef shipments last year broke through the 200,000t ceiling for the first time, the overall ratio of chilled to frozen shipments has fallen in recent years, in line with broader industry trends.
Last year, chilled beef made up 29.5pc of total Brisbane port business, down from 41pc back in 2010.
In terms of total shipping containers (Teu’s), there were more than 49,000 uplifts last year, up about 1000 on the year before, and a 2000 rise on 2010.
More stevedoring competition equals efficiency
From a workplace efficiency perspective, one of the big developments at Port of Brisbane last year was the arrival of a third stevedoring company operating from the site.
The world’s largest stevedore, Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH) started operations at the site last year, heightening competition with existing operators, Patrick and DP World.
Operating under the name Brisbane Container Terminals, HPH last year started bulk materials handling, and is now in the process of approaching potential customers for refrigerated and frozen trade – including beef exports – a company spokeswoman told Beef Central yesterday.
When completed, HPH will have spent $200 million establishing infrastructure at the port, covering 26 hectares and servicing two berths.
In November, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission released its annual container stevedoring monitoring report, suggesting greater competition at Australian wharves should provide greater levels of efficiency.
“Australian stevedoring has dramatically lifted its performance since the 1990’s," the ACCC report said.
"But now, increased competition can provide the spur for even higher levels of efficiency and service,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.
Reforms to the stevedoring industry in the late 1990s mean that the industry has been well placed to meet the strong growth in container throughput at Australia’s ports.
Both the equipment and the workforce have become more productive, which has led to a fall in the average cost of handling containers. As a result, shipping lines (and exporters) now receive a better service and face lower real stevedoring charges.
Since 1998, stevedores had increased the efficiency of their operations, and as a result real unit costs have fallen by 45 percent, the report found. Much of that cost saving had been passed on to shipping lines, with unit revenues (a proxy for stevedoring prices) falling by 38pc over the same period.
The stevedores’ productivity had also improved over the last 14 years, with cranes moving 30.1 containers per hour in June 2012 compared to 18.7 in June 1998.
Similarly, the productivity of the stevedores’ work-forces had improved over the last decade.
Persistently high returns (23pc on average over the last decade) had previously led the ACCC to question the intensity of competition in the stevedoring industry. The addition of capacity at most ports and the entry of Hutchison Port Holdings in Brisbane and Sydney are both important developments for promoting heightened competition.
“The arrival of a new stevedore in 2012 heralds the next wave of reform in Australian stevedoring, one in which greater competition can drive investment and service levels,” Mr Sims said.