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Australia’s beef trade with China

14 May 2020

Australia’s trading relationship with China has attracted headlines this week following the announcement from China of the suspension of beef exports from four Australian processing plants. MLA Managing Director, Jason Strong, outlines what has happened this week and what it means for Australia’s beef exports.

What has happened this week?

China has this week announced the suspension of beef exports from four Australian processing plants.  The stated reasons for this import suspension relate back to 2019 and involve inconsistencies with labelling and consignment certificates for some frozen and chilled beef products. 

The import suspension is a temporary pause in the processing of import declarations for the four establishments and the nominated products.  This temporary pause in the processing of import declarations by the General Administration of Customs China (GACC) is effective for loads shipped from May 12 to China, from the four establishments - although any product already in transit is not affected.

How has industry responded?

China has strict requirements for technical matters, including labelling, and the Australian meat industry takes these concerns exceptionally seriously.

The Australian red meat industry, led by the Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) who are the peak representative body for Australia’s processing sector, are working closely with the Australian Federal Government and the affected companies to undertake a range of verification activities to address the concerns.  AMIC and our industry have made clear this is a trade and market access issue that is being led by the Federal Government.

MLA will support and assist AMIC and industry where necessary, particularly with our suite of detailed market insights and data.

What are the implications for Australia’s beef exports?

China is an important and valued market for Australian beef exports.  Australia has developed strong commercial relationships, linkages and supply chains to supply Chinese consumers with high quality Australian red meat product.

In 2019, Australia exported 300,133 tonnes swt of boxed beef, worth A$2.67 billion.  Demand in China for Australian beef spiked dramatically in 2019, driven in large part by African Swine Fever (ASF) and the domestic protein shortage this created.  This saw China rise from 4th to the top export destination for Australian beef.

However, it is important for context to note that Australia exports to over 100 countries, with no one single market representing more than 25% of red meat exports.  This large spread and diversification of export markets continues to be a strength of Australia’s red meat industry.


Interestingly, Australia has dealt with issues of this nature before, with similar suspensions in 2017 which were subsequently resolved.

As a majority export industry, Australia sends more than 85 million beef cartons around the world each year without issue. Importantly, Australian red meat has an impeccable reputation across the globe and is renowned for its quality, consistency and traceability.

© Meat & Livestock Australia Limited, 2020