China syndrome must be right

Rueben Hale and Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

WA beef industry leaders have warned WA has only one chance to engage the China market right.

The Department of Agriculture and Food recently led a delegation of WA beef industry representatives to China to support the development of new trade opportunities.

The visit was part of the department's Northern Beef Futures project, funded by the State Government's Royalties for Regions program, to support the WA industry in developing supply chains into China.

WA beef exports in 2014-15 were valued at $169 million.

The State's exports to China have grown steadily from a small base and were valued at $14.9 million in 2014-15.

The trip included Shanghai and Qidong where delegates saw wet markets, visited quarantine facilities and met wholesalers, importers, retailers, processors and Government representatives.

The group also visited Hangzhou and Haikou to examine meat wholesaling and farming facilities and meet with local businesses.

Kimberley Cattlemen's Association executive officer Catherine Marriot and WA Beef Industry Council chairman Ivan Rogers were among the delegates.

Ms Marriot said it seemed in the Chinese market, anything was possible, but nothing was easy.

She said she had learnt the key to working successfully with the Chinese market was for industry to identify suitable partners and work towards establishing common supply chain integrity values.

She said the industry and Government officials she had spoken with on the trip had an excellent knowledge of our animal welfare and food safety protocols.

"I've discovered that it's about asking and finding out what is needed and in return what we, as any industry, can provide," she said.

"The key message coming from the customers we visited in China was they are all very concerned about consistency of quality, safety and supply, so if we are going to develop a business in China, it is imperative that we are honest and transparent with the market about what we can do.

"They are investing billions in infrastructure and if we stuff them around, we'll only ever do it once."

Mr Rogers said the tour allowed the seven Australian industry representatives to understand the genuine interest in Australian beef from Chinese commercial businesses and Government operators.

Mr Rogers said over the six days, the delegation was briefed by the Chinese Central Inspection and Quarantine Service, Meat and Livestock Australia and the WA Trade and Investment Office.

"In total, we met with 10 different businesses, right across the supply chain," he said.

"This was very much a market-focused delegation.

"It was great to see the huge amount of work being done in China behind the scenes to secure market access for Australian beef."

Mr Rogers said with 1.3 billion people in China consuming 5kg of beef per capita each year, the potential for an increase of Australian beef exports into China was significant.

"This is clearly a massive market and this trip gave us an understanding that there really is a genuine interest in Australian beef," he said.

Australia was already exporting frozen beef to China, he said.

"This market is only relatively small, but from what we saw, we know that product is very well accepted by the market here," he said.

But he cautioned it was too soon to predict a time when the Chinese would be open for business in regard to live cattle exports from Australia, despite recent shipments.

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