AS devastating as coronavirus has been in China, there could be a window of opportunity for Australian horticulture.
That's based on the industry's image as a premium produce supplier, with less Chinese shoppers avoiding traditional "wet markets" for vegetable and fruit purchases.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences' (ABARES) March 2020 quarter Agricultural Commodities Outlook outlined significant impacts the virus was having on China's retail sector and international trade.
"Chinese consumers are avoiding traditional wet markets and increasing their purchases from supermarkets and e-commerce platforms that offer cleaner shopping environments, convenient deliveries and a greater range of imports," the report said.
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"This could provide commercial opportunities for Australian exporters to find marketing channels outside traditional wholesale markets.
"Chinese consumers have avoided restaurants and stockpiled food to avoid congregating in crowded places.
"Activity in Chinese wholesale markets has reportedly fallen due to restrictions on movements."
While that may be an opportunity, Australian fruit exporters have, according to ABARES, already taken a hit with coronavirus affecting Chinese seasonal demand for horticultural products during the Chinese New Year.
"This is expected to reduce demand for Australian summer fruit exports, including stonefruit and table grapes," the report said.
These factors pose significant downside risks to Australian horticultural exports in 2019-20.
But, in talking up its "Taste Australia" campaign, research and development corporation, Hort Innovation, said Aussie stonefruit was in high demand in the lead-up to Chinese New Year on January 25.
The campaign saw product launches with consumers lining up to get a taste of Australian produce.
Hort Innovation reported stonefruit success stories within Asian nations such as Thailand, China and Malaysia.
The ABARES report however said disruptions to fresh produce supply chains in the short term could also reduce the availability of imports in China.
"These factors pose significant downside risks to Australian horticultural exports in 2019-20," it said.
Stepping back though, ABARES reckons China will remain the cause for a rise in Australian produce exports.
Its latest report said over the medium term to 2024-25, Australian fruit and nut exports are expected to increase further as greater shares of production are directed to meet rising demand from Asian consumers for quality fresh produce.
"The majority of this increase is expected to come from Chinese consumers, although rising incomes in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam are also expected to benefit Australian exporters," the report said.
"The expected losses from this outbreak may be significant for some industries, but they are likely to be short-lived.
"The long-term impact of this outbreak on Australian producers and exporters is unknown."