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Economic Analysis of the Live Cattle Export Trade prepared by MECARDO

Did you know that more than 40% of revenue generated in Australia from the live cattle trade is retained by the farmers?

Project start date: 14 May 2018
Project end date: 30 September 2018
Publication date: 01 November 2018
Project status: Completed
Livestock species: Grain-fed Cattle, Grass-fed Cattle
Relevant regions: National
Download Report (5.1 MB)


Live cattle exports are an important component of Australia’s cattle industry, especially in northern Australia - providing jobs, sustaining land values and supporting cattle prices.

However, there has been little factual information to support discussions about its value to farmers, rural communities and the wider economy in Australia, and to importing countries.

This project was undertaken to quantify the value of live cattle exports, including regional employment figures. In addition to desktop research and analysis, a survey of 161 participants in the industry provided qualitative information.

As well as a written report, four webinars were produced to communicate the findings, including case studies on the Northern Territory and Indonesia.


The project carried out an economic analysis of Australia’s live cattle trade to determine its value to regional zones across the country. This included:

  • full-time equivalent employment numbers
  • the structure of the value chain across zones
  • level of reliance businesses involved in the live export trade have with regard to the proportion of their revenues they earn from the live cattle trade
  • reasons why our offshore trade partners have an interest to continue importing live cattle.

Key findings

  • The live cattle export trade was worth an average of $1.2 billion annually, over the 2012-17 period.
  • It supports more than 2,000 direct on-farm employees, and a total national workforce of almost 10,000.
  • Farmers retain 40-57% of revenue generated in Australia from the live cattle trade.
  • During times such as drought, when there are a lot of cattle for sale, the live export trade supports local prices by providing an alternative market.
  • Australia’s trading partners prefer live cattle for a number of reasons, including self-sufficiency in food production; lack of reliable access by households to electricity (and therefore refrigeration), especially in poorer and rural areas; increased local employment through feedlots and abattoirs; culture; and to improve the genetics of their domestic herd.

Benefits to industry

Providing factual information about the live cattle export trade ensures stakeholders are equipped to discuss and communicate its benefits to governments and the community, in order to provide a balanced and informed debate about the industry’s future.

Future research

Industry may look to undertake future research to continue to continue to quantify the value of the live cattle trade to regional areas of Australia and overseas trading partners.

More information

Contact email:
Primary researcher: Mercado