BEEF producers in the south-west are hoping that China’s decision to suspend imports of Australian chilled beef will be resolved before it affects prices.
While Warrnambool’s Midfield Meat is not listed as an exporter of chilled beef to China, the suspension of imports could lead to a drop in demand and prices.
Midfield Meat declined to comment yesterday on China’s import suspension.
Victorian Farmers Federation livestock president Ian Feltdmann said the Chinese market was an important one and Australia needed to meet the requirements to continue the trade.
If imports of chilled beef to China remained blocked, other markets would need to be found to underpin prices, Mr Feltdmann said.
Federal Trade Minister Andrew Robb has ordered trade officials to seek an urgent resolution of the issue with Chinese authorities.
“The reason given by China was that Australian meat export establishments are not currently registered to export chilled product to China, with which we do not agree,” Mr Robb said.
Some trade experts have suggested the suspension of imports is being driven by broader trade negotiations.
Mr Robb is about to restart talks on a free-trade agreement with China, in which agriculture will be a key negotiating area.
The import suspension follows a dramatic increase in chilled beef imports to China in the past year in which Australia has shared.
Chilled beef shipments to China have surged 873 per cent due to a crackdown on smuggling and a series of food scandals involving local producers.
Chilled cuts, which are usually sold to high-end restaurants and five-star hotels, accounted for 18 per cent of Australian beef exports to China in terms of value over the first seven months of the year.
The total trade is expected to reach $600 million this year, making China the third-biggest export market behind Japan and the United States. Australian beef exports to China have surged from about 12,000 tonnes in 2011 to 92,000 tonnes in 2012 and are expected to total about 130,000 tonnes in 2013.
Trade analyst Alan Oxley said the federal government should move quickly to deal with the ban outside negotiations for a free-trade deal because it would otherwise “drag out the negotiations’’.
Mr Oxley said the ban “could be a move by China to put up an obstacle and use it as leverage to get something it wants from Australia ahead of the talks or in the talks’’.
“There has been a huge surge in chilled beef imports over the past 12 months and for whatever reason China wants to cool it … probably under pressure from highly-protectionist local producers,’’ Mr Oxley said.
National Farmers’ Federation president Duncan Fraser warned the ban could be seen in the broader context of China testing the Abbott government over its determination to clinch a deal with Beijing.