Live export enjoys a positive year

25 Dec, 2014 01:00 AM
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THE live export industry has enjoyed a big year with renewed opportunities, talk of new market potential and lots of positivity.

The re-emergence of trade to Bahrain, stopped in 2012, was big news.

The first sheep shipment was reportedly successful and has continued uneventfully.

Other markets such as Vietnam, remain strong.

WA's red meat industry is booming and predicted to reach new highs, but industry representatives continued to warn of stiff international competition.

Live cattle exports from WA rose by 56 per cent to 305,000 head, driven by increased exports to Indonesia, Israel and Vietnam, the latest WA beef commentary from the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) shows.

The research says the total value of cattle exported from WA to all markets increased sharply to $236 million.

About 411,000 cattle were processed in WA during 2013/14, 5pc more than in the previous financial year.

While live cattle export numbers were high last financial year, exporters believe the trend could be short lived if Indonesian importers show price resistance.

Positive talks surrounded the China market for much of the year.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed, establishing a live export trade with China.

Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston witnessed the signing of the MoU between WA livestock exporters and Chinese business representatives to work towards trial shipments of live cattle.

China is WA's most valuable agrifood export market, at $1.027 billion in 2012-13, and wool, barley, canola, wheat and sheep skins are the top export commodities.

In an effort to build trade relationships, DAFWA's director general Rob Delane visited the Hainan province, Beijing and Guangzhou on a trip to China.

Mr Delane's mission aimed to strengthen trading ties and focused on key areas such as cattle and sheep.

The Free Trade Agreement between China and Australia was also signed.

Mining magnates Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest and Gina Rinehart invested in the WA beef trade – with the flow-on benefit of increasing confidence in the market and hopes for a China live export trade.

Mr Forrest's Minderoo Group surprised the industry by buying Harvey Beef in May.

Minderoo said its decision to purchase WA's biggest beef abattoir signalled its strong belief in the future of Australia's agricultural industry.

Mr Forrest also backed an initiative to market Australian produce on a united front in partnership he helped create with industry in China.

Ms Rinehart made a joint investment in some West Kimberley cattle stations and an abattoir.

Australia's richest woman took a 50pc share in the Liveringa and Nerrima stations through Hancock Prospecting.

The family-owned Milne AgriGroup, headed by Graham Laitt, has the other 50pc stake.

The new joint-entity, Liveringa Station Beef (LSB), also bought the former Clover Meat's Waroona abattoir, south of Perth, which was WA's biggest export abattoir before closing down in 1998.

Though the live export industry had a great year, the agriculture industry will face a new question: how to deal with WA's declining flock and herd numbers.

DAFWA research figures show WA sheep flock declined to 14 million head in 2011, increased to 15.5m in 2013, and is forecast slip to 15m in mid-2014.

In the new year, the State Government will be working in partnership with industry to build markets and WA flock numbers, through a $10m program.

From a high of 29.3m head in June 2013, Meat and Livestock Australia says Australia's cattle herd dropped 8.8pc to 26.7m head at the end of June 2014.

The female proportion of the kill is running at 4.5 percentage points above the long-term average, meaning lower branding rates will make further herd declines inevitable.

However, the State Government will invest $15m in the industry - to ensure northern beef producers can take advantage of promising markets in Asia and the Middle East; to improve cattle breeding techniques and genetics; and to change herd management practices.

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