Chinese noodles a windfall for WA

EXCLUSIVE Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

A Chinese company wants to trade on WA's reputation for clean and green food by building a flour mill near Perth to make noodles for children.

The plan is based on the premium Chinese parents are willing to pay for safe, quality food.

It is believed construction of the flour mill and associated noodle processing and packaging plant would cost a minimum $45 million based on production of 300 tonnes of flour a day.

The State Government said the proposal was part of what it predicted would become a wave of Chinese investment in agriculture worth billions of dollars.

Regional Development Minister Terry Redman met the company behind the move as part of high-level talks in China in the past few days that included government officials and State-owned enterprises.

WA also moved closer to starting live cattle shipments to Chinese abattoirs when Mr Redman yesterday witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between WA exporters and three major Chinese companies on China's Hainan Island.

Mr Redman would not name the company behind the flour mill project but said it was a big grain processor in southern China with a wide distribution network. "The company tell us that the premium they will get from the food safety of the supply chain is sufficient to make the numbers work," he said.

Chinese parents are increasingly concerned over a series of food contamination and substitution incidents that have caused deaths and illness in children in recent years. The company wants to market a specialised noodle product for children trading off the integrity of WA's food supply chains.

Interflour chief executive Greg Harvey, who operates a string of flour mills in south-west Asia, processing grain from WA farms, said the plan had merit because of WA's reputation overseas.

He said food safety factors had been key to the success of iconic WA brands Harvey Fresh and Harvey Beef, recently bought by billionaire Andrew Forrest, in building markets in China.

Many Chinese importers have flagged demand for live cattle once quarantine restrictions are lifted, with one potential customer discussing an order for 200,000 cattle with Mr Forrest.

Mr Redman also met Shanghai Zhongfu president Pui Ngai Wu to discuss a billion-dollar investment in the sugar industry on the Ord River irrigation scheme.

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