INVERELL processor Bindaree Beef has thrown its support behind the Australia-Sino 100-Year Agricultural and Food Safety Partnership (ASA 100).
Bindaree has accepted an invitation to attend the first full meeting of the ASA 100 at Parliament House in Canberra this Saturday and back the initiative, along with other leading agribusinesses and agricultural stakeholders from both countries.
The company will be represented by development manager John Clements who intends to use the strategic trade forum to pursue a goal of positioning the local beef industry for growth, based on China's burgeoning consumer demand.
Bindaree says the ASA 100 aims to position Australia as China's “friendliest and safest” supplier of premium agricultural products, while forging trade relationships for the next 100 years.
The company’s invitation to join the ASA 100 was extended by the initiative’s founder and co-chair Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest.
The West Australian mining magnate recently acquired Harvey Beef, WA's largest beef processor, indicating his optimistic outlook on future food trade to China.
Bindaree says emerging Chinese food demand provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Australian farmers to move from being price takers to price setters, if Australia can unite its market approach.
Mr Clements said China’s demand for Australian beef “is clear” but Australia must ensure it has a viable beef industry, to meet that growing demand.
“In short, we need to deliver better returns for everyone in the supply chain, especially beef producers who have been doing it tough for a several years now,” he said.
"From Bindaree Beef's perspective, getting good returns for the primary producers depends on there being a competitive market for beef cattle, whether the competition comes from processors, live trade or elsewhere.
“The point we want to make very clear in Canberra is this competitive marketplace will only grow from efficient modernised operations at each step of the journey from farm gate to Chinese supermarket shelves.”
Mr Clements said Bindaree Beef had already committed to a $40 million investment to make its operations more energy efficient.
He said in order to make further investments that boost the company’s ability to compete, processors needed to be sure governments would assist with targeted policy, such as better access to 457 visa workers who can fill short-term vacancies where Australian workers are unable to be found, to fill those roles.
"Additionally, we are looking for policy from the government to ensure a strong balance sheet translates to ready access to capital," he said.
ASA 100 members include three of China's biggest food companies - the New Hope Group, State-owned COFCO Group and Wilmar International.
Australian representatives include federal, State and Territory ministers, the Business Council of Australia, Goodman Fielder, Baiada and other large agribusinesses.
As well as the ASA 100 meeting in Canberra this Saturday, Mr Clements says he will also participate in the Australia China Economic and Trade Forum, joining the Australia China Business Council, government and industry leaders for a large-scale dialogue on Sino-Australian trade and investment.
"We've really just scratched the surface with what we've been sending to China so far,” he said.
“But the experience - especially since September when we began freighting retail-ready cuts - has convinced Bindaree Beef that local operators can do well in Chinese markets."
It’s expected the ASA 100 memorandum of understanding (MoU) will also be formally signed at Parliament House on Monday afternoon, witnessed by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Sources say the MoU signing could also provide an ideal setting to announce the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement, if the historic deal is concluded, following further talks between the two leaders, during the weekend’s G20 meeting in Brisbane.