FOLLOWING the signing of a Statement of Intent to initiate negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Australia and China, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) have officially opened their office in Beijing.
MLA chairman David Crombie said the opening of the first MLA China office by Prime Minister John Howard confirms the important role Australia's red meat industry plays in the growth of the Australian economy.
Trade Minister Mark Vaile predicted that Australia will achieve its highest export figure on record this financial year, predominantly due to the emergence of China as a major industrialised power.
"The Chinese economy grows stronger by the day, and Australia can not afford to be left behind," Mr Vaile said.
MLA's main objectives in China are to improve market access for Australian red meat products, get more market information from the Chinese red meat industry, and increase demand for Australian red meat.
Mr Crombie said he hopes the establishment of the Beijing office will create future trade opportunities for Australia's red meat industry, develop bilateral cooperation, and strengthen the relationship between the two countries.
"This is just the beginning," Mr Crombie said.
"The quality of red meat products produced in Australia, and increased market access, are the keys to future success.
"MLA has been promoting the quality, safety and integrity of Australia's red meat to differentiate our product, and to gain greater access into the premium higher end markets.
"Marketing and access in China are priorities for MLA, to support and further strengthen current and future industry initiatives."
In 2004 Australia exported over $550m in meat, livestock and livestock products to China, including $50m of premium quality beef and lamb meat to high end foodservice and retail outlets.
China became Australia's second largest export market for lamb in 2004, totalling 10,000t, and beef exports totalled 1200t, including a 100pc increase in premium chilled beef exports (240 tonnes).
The promotion of Australian beef in China will receive another boost if the proposed increase in cattle transaction levies goes ahead.
The proposed $1.50 increase in cattle transaction levies will add, combined with other initiatives, a further $300,000 to be used by MLA to market Australian beef in China.