Deal beefs up export hopes

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

WA has taken a big step towards opening up live cattle exports to the insatiable Chinese market after signing a landmark agreement with sister state Zhejiang.

Cattle producers and exporters said the agreement would change the face of the industry in WA if it opened the door to supplying China's growing middle class with quality beef.

Under the memorandum of understanding signed yesterday in Hangzhou, WA and Zhejiang - home to 54 million people - will work together to develop a live cattle trade.

The agreement commits WA and Zhejiang to supporting investment and joint ventures in supply chains.

Premier Colin Barnett, who witnessed the signing with Zhejiang vice-governor Liang Liming, said it was a breakthrough for the WA cattle industry and built on talks he had with local officials in June.

"It is early days but this sets up a commitment for both sides to co-operate on developing a live cattle trade by sharing information and lobbying and promoting opportunities to our national governments," Mr Barnett said.

"There's been significant interest from agricultural companies on the ground here to work on this, which is a good start."

The focus is likely to be on slaughter-ready cattle exports. It is understood Zhejiang also showed interest in live sheep.

Australia exports dairy breeder cattle to China - including 7230 head from WA so far this year - but there are no protocols in place for the export of slaughter or feeder cattle.

Cracking the live market requires approval under Federal Government regulations and China's strict biosecurity laws.

Chinese demand for Australian beef has exploded - up from 5.54 million kilograms worth $19 million in 2008 to 127.4m kg worth $422 million so far this year.

WA has a small share of the beef market - 1.25m kg worth $3.76 million in the first nine months of the year - but a significant proportion of the State's live cattle exports to Vietnam are sold into China as boxed beef.

WA Livestock Export Association chairman John Edwards said the agreement offered new hope after years of trying to gain a foothold in China.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Rob Gillam said China was a potential game-changer for cattle producers.

Mr Gillam said the increased demand could boost returns for producers and lift the value of cattle properties as a result.

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