Sydney / Reuters – Australia will export up to 1 million head of cattle a year to China, worth around A$1 billion ($856 million), to meet booming demand for red meat under a long-awaited deal set to be signed shortly, Australian officials said on Friday.
Shipping live animals from Australia to China has been discussed for many years. Official talks began in February and Australia’s Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce is currently in China, where the agreement is expected to get a final sign-off.
“It’s a million cattle, worth A$1 billion. The ink is not dry on the contract though,” Australian government cabinet minister Christopher Pyne told Channel Nine on Friday. “It’s a great breakthrough.”
Talks had been stalled over the presence in the Australian herd of Bluetongue disease, a virus which is spread by midges, a tiny fly.
While the disease usually has little effect on cattle, it would pose a major threat to China’s 140-million-strong sheep flock, the world’s largest.
A team of Chinese scientists was recently in Australia carrying out on-site inspections and Joyce had told Reuters last month he was “on the edge of a deal”.
Live exports could help curb high beef prices in China and open up a new market for Australian farmers. China’s total beef imports are expected to roughly treble to $9 billion by 2025, according to Australian government and UN estimates.
(1 US dollar = 1.1678 Australian dollar)
Reporting by Lincoln Feast