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A challenging year comes to a close

08 December 2020

A difficult year comes to a close with a number of serious unresolved challenges in our international markets. Forced adaptations to COVID-19 have become the ‘new normal’ for citizens and supply chains alike, and the year ends with much uncertainty regarding Australia’s relationship with China.

2020 has certainly highlighted the need for resilience, a quality strongly associated with our industry. Decades of hard work developing trusted production systems, opening markets and fostering competition for Australian red meat have left us with a good chance of withstanding shocks to both supply and demand.

No single market accounts for larger than 25% share of Australian beef exports, with the top four markets (China, Japan, the US and Korea) each accounting for over 10%. For sheepmeat, the top two markets (China and US) account for only around half of total exports, with another 15 markets spread across the globe taking at least 1% each. This spread compares very favourably to competitor nations and other Australian agricultural exports.

Despite the twin challenges of COVID and China, and others such as increased competition, clear opportunities also present. Australian red meat has earned the trust of customers and consumers globally and occupies an enviable brand position in many markets. The rapidly emerging, protein hungry middle class in Asia will continue to propel demand.

In order to capture future opportunities we will need to keep adapting as prosperity won’t come naturally. We must invest in understanding the global consumer and what drives their food choices. We must understand technology and how it is changing the way consumers engage, shop and eat. We must develop products that meet consumer needs and wants. And above all, we must continue to foster the invaluable asset that is our brand reputation.

MLA employs staff in 15 offshore locations to manage market and trade development activities on behalf of industry. Like many other businesses, the original 2020 program shifted quickly toward online communications and specific COVID-19 response projects.

Early on in the year we launched a COVID-19 response plan including social media ‘food hacks’ and nutrition information for homebound consumers, speedier communication between our overseas posts and Australian stakeholders, and increased co-marketing support to ensure Australian red meat was being actively promoted.

Recently, we conducted a string of online trade seminars in key locations, which brought thousands of customers, exporters and MLA staff together to share information about supply forecasts, consumer trends and upcoming marketing activities. I am confident these activities supported the resilience that we saw in 2020.

Hopefully 2021 brings more positive developments for the above outlined challenges, but also with trade negotiations underway with the EU and (post Brexit) United Kingdom, the Tokyo Olympics and continued growth in emerging markets such as Thailand and Vietnam.

All the best and see you all next year.

Andrew Cox