Westpac boss, Brian Hartzer, is telling his agribusiness clients to take advantage of Britain’s unexpected Brexit and start lining up export prospects now.
The bank’s managing director is also hoping the federal government is already seizing the initiative to get a trade deal on the drawing board in anticipation of UK breaking from the European Union (EU) in 2019.
“Britain needs friends and they don’t have a lot of free trade deal experience after all those years in the EU trading bloc,” Mr Hartzer said while visiting North West NSW.
“We should be proactive in reaching out and developing some formal guidelines so the UK and Australia can quickly establish a trade relationship which can be a model for future British trade deals with other countries.”
He hinted Australia and New Zealand might be more effective working together to lock down a three-way partnership with Britain.
Given Australia’s long and close ties with Britain, it would be natural to swiftly prioritise a trade co-operation agenda between the two countries.
“It’s fair to say we (as a bank) didn’t think the Brexit would happen, but now it’s for real I’m telling the businesses I talk to to get on the front foot and start building export contacts,” Mr Hartzer said.
Among those he talked to while visiting Tamworth and the Liverpool Plains late last week was the Wormall family at Breeza and Willow Tree, whose beef business is already exploring new market contacts in the UK.
Third generation partner in the family’s Jacks Creek company, Patrick Warmoll, said the family, which already exports to Europe, had started talks with potential UK (direct) importers in the past few weeks.
“We see the Brexit as a good opportunity for us - we’re making initial inquiries,” he said.
“The Brits are a nation of beef eaters and they only produce a portion of what they consume.”
Last year Jack’s Creek won the World Steak Challenge’s top steak title in London after judges gave their vote to a serving of the Australian-produced Wagyu beef ahead of 70 other entries from 10 countries.
Mr Warmoll, the managing director, said a lot of round beef cuts currently sent to Europe - silverside, topside and rump - were already redirected to UK butchers or restaurants, even if initially sourced through distributors on the continent.
Jacks Creek has been grain feeding its beef cattle since 1995 and began specialising in lot feeding in 2000.
About 70 per cent of its home-bred and externally originated Wagyu and Angus beef is now exported to 22 countries including Saudi Arabia, Japan and China.
The company, which owns and leases 12,000 hectares of grazing and cropping country, processes about 900 head every week at Northern Co-operative Meat Company in Casino.
It also exports grain products including buckwheat, white sorghum and millet.
Mr Warmoll felt a Brexit-related trade opening with Britain would complement Australia’s improving grain-fed beef market in the EU and an EU trade deal with Australia.
Initial trade agreement talks have already begun with the EU which is Australia’s second largest trading partner and the source of about $84 billion in two-way trade annually.
“A few years ago we only had 15pc of the (grain-fed) quota into Europe, now Australia is up to 30pc - about equal with US exports,” Mr Warmoll said.
He hoped the EU’s liking for grain-fed beef would see considerable free trade export opportunities opening up to Australian cattle producers and other farm sector players.
Westpac’s Mr Hartzer also welcomed trade negotiations between Europe and Australia, saying the potential to reduce trade barriers would be a positive step.
“As in any bilateral agreement, the specifics of the deal struck are critically important, so we await details around current negotiations.”