China orders halt to red meat imports from several Australian meatworks

China has temporarily banned beef imports from six Australian meatworks, the Federal Government has confirmed.

Australia was made aware of the ban on Tuesday, and Trade Minister Steven Ciobo told the ABC he intended to work closely and constructively with industry and China to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

The ABC understands the affected abattoirs are in Queensland and NSW, and include two facilities owned by Australia’s largest meat processor JBS.

Other companies affected are Kilcoy Pastoral, Australian Country Choice, the Northern Rivers Co-operative at Casino, and Thomas Food.

Mr Ciobo said the ban related to Chinese concern about labelling non-compliance.

There is no suggestion health or food safety issues are involved.

“This is obviously a very material situation,” Mr Ciobo said.

“We’ve got, potentially, very significant amounts of trade involved in this and so it’s a matter that I’m very mobilised on, my team, my office, as well as our embassy in China.”

Government adopts proactive approach

Mr Ciobo said Australia and China had a strong relationship that “sees us work through irritants”, such as Australia’s recent ban on prawn imports.

“We intend to engage in a very constructive way,” Mr Ciobo said, and sought to reassure the beef industry the Government would adopt a very “proactive” approach.

The Australian Meat Industry Council confirmed it was working with the Department of Agriculture through diplomatic channels on the issue.

There are shipments currently on the water.

The ABC understands the Australian industry believes it has resolved the labelling issues, and the Government is hopeful it can resolve the issue before those ships arrive in China.

The Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources issued a statement on Wednesday saying the six affected export establishments were reported as suspended on the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of China website.

Australia’s beef exports to China were worth more than $600 million last year, and China is the fourth-largest market.

More beef and lamb processors were given approval in March to export chilled meat to China in a deal struck at the highest level, between the Chinese Premier and the Australian Prime Minister.

But Australian exporters are also now confronted with a new competitor in the market as China opens up to US beef imports for the first time in 13 years.

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