Thursday, 10 December 2020
Trade with China
Australia learnt this week that yet another Australian business has been banned from exporting their product to China. On Monday, Chinese customs authorities announced that abattoir and beef exporter Meramist was the latest to have its products suspended from entering that country. Meramist, based in Caboolture in my electorate of Longman, employs 160 people and exports between 65 and 75 per cent of its business to China. It has been exporting beef to China for the past 10 years, and in that time has had no major problems meeting China's import standards and requirements. As a result of the announcement from China this week, the company has been forced to lay off four people from management positions. Meramist expects its trade suspension to be in place for a considerable amount of time and is therefore looking at alternative trade partners to bridge the gap. It's staying positive and hopes that by finding new trade partners it will save around 60 jobs that would otherwise be at risk. China's reason for suspending trade with Meramist was that it allegedly found a container with trimmings inside, yet in the past all containers sent by Meramist to China contained the same trimmings. There was also an honest mistake made around one label being incorrectly placed on a product.
Meramist becomes the sixth Australian beef exporter to be suspended from exporting to China for alleged non-compliance. Five of those are in my home state of Queensland; the other one is in New South Wales. There are another two beef exporters in Victoria who voluntarily suspended themselves during the COVID-19 outbreak and have since been unable to reinstate their exports to China.
The Australian government takes compliance with China's import requirements very seriously, and our regulators will work through the issues according to established practices. The mutually beneficial China-Australia Free Trade Agreement has been in place since December 2015, and during that time Australia has maintained an excellent reputation with Chinese consumers. Australia is committed to the Chinese market and has worked closely with Chinese authorities to ensure all import requirements are met. The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment wants to work closely with Chinese authorities as a matter of priority to address the most recent suspension, as well as to seek an update on other suspended Australian meat establishments. Our officials have been working closely with affected establishments to address China's concern with the aim of recommencing trade as soon as possible. While the suspension is disappointing, there are 36 meat establishments that remain eligible to export to China.
Australia has expressed concern over China's measures to disrupt trade with Australia not only on beef but on a wide range of goods. Australia is a reliable exporter of safe, wholesome and high-quality meat and meat products to China. We are proud of the strong regulatory controls in place that underpin the integrity and safety of exported Australian meat. China is an important market for Australian farmers, but it is just one market. Other major export markets for Australian beef include Japan, the US, Korea and Indonesia.
I believe that China's decision to suspend trade with Meramist and other Australian companies is the wake-up call we needed. It's clear that the more eggs we have in the China basket, the easier it is for the Chinese government to disrupt these trade agreements. I encourage all Australian exporters to spread their wings and seek out alternative trade partners where possible.
The Morrison government, meanwhile, is doing its part to help agricultural exporters by investing $328 million in systems to modernise Australia's trading environment and lead a strong economic recovery through the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes $222.2 million to transform our export systems, including contributing to a single, digital, one-stop shop and enabling the fast-tracking of goods to international markets. A further $10.9 million will be invested to reduce the regulatory burden on meat processors like Meramist and to maintain Australia's status as a leading source of premium animal products.
Through the year our farmers have working tirelessly to keep not only us but also our critical export markets supplied with food and fibre. The latest ABARES agricultural commodities report has forecast the gross value of agricultural production to rise by seven per cent to $65.1 billion in 2021. This forecast is a testament to the resilience of our farmers, and it ensures that agriculture will play a major part in our recovery post-COVID.
The Australian government will always stand up for our sovereignty and our national interest. The government this week passed a foreign relations bill with bipartisan and significant crossbench support. The legislation will provide governments, institutions, and the Australian people with confidence that due diligence is given to the international arrangements. I'm proud to be part of an Australian government that supports and stands up for our sovereignty.