China recently caused concern among Australian beef suppliers when Chinese authorities blocked the import of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of beef exports.
Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo received a letter from China's quarantine agency expressing concern about the labels on some boxes of exported beef. They did not match the labels on the packets inside.
The products affected came from six distributors in Queensland, NSW and SA. They are among nearly 50 Australian meatworks approved to process meat for export to China. The other meatworks were not affected by the ban.
A Weekly Times report suggested China's concerns may be related to recent comments by the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on China's military ambitions, but Ms Bishop and Defence Minister Marise Payne both denied this could be the case.
The ban was limited only to 12 imports from the six meatworks named, and did not affect exports arriving in China before 24 July. Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said this was “a human error issue”.
China has become a major consumer of beef, going from $275 million in total beef imports in 2012 to $2.5 billion in 2016, and is the fourth largest export market for Australia, after the US, Japan and South Korea.
Wyatt Bechtel, of Cattle Network, says that according to Meat & Livestock Australia, 94,040 tons of beef was shipped to China in 2016. This was a 36.6% drop in beef exports to China, but the five year average from 2011-2015 was 93,660 tons, making 2016 an “above average year”.
Steven Ciobo and industry representatives are negotiating with Chinese authorities to resolve the matter.