Australian meat industry wants to beef up UK market


by Samantha Townsend

With more than 65 million potential customers, it’s no surprise the Australian red meat industry wants a slice of the action.

On the back of Brexit and the United Kingdom calling a snap general election, the nation’s peak meat group Meat and Livestock Australia is pushing for more market access to boost Australia’s meat exports to the UK.

Australia’s current market share only represents 6 per cent of total UK red meat imports but with the UK not self-sufficient in red meat production, importing 250,000 tonnes of beef and 90,000 tonnes of sheep meat, industry experts say we are in a good position to meet demand.

“As a trusted producer of the highest quality natural beef and lamb, Australia is well placed to offer both the UK and the EU a safe and reliable supply of superior red meat,” MLA managing director Richard Norton said.

“Given our cattle herd and sheep flock numbers, the range of global markets that we service, our high exchange rates and higher manufacturing costs, Australia is not in a position to flood the UK or EU markets.”

Mr Norton said Brexit and the UK’s decision to call a snap general election for early June added new urgency to progress Australia’s ambitions given the UK’s new trade policy and that any quotas and tariffs were likely to be set over the next six months.

Josh Anderson (MLA’s Europe international business manager), Richard Norton (MLA managing director), and George Abrahams (managing director of the George Abrahams Group). Photo: MLA

Just back from a series of meetings in London, Mr Norton said MLA had moved quickly to build on its long-standing presence in Europe and bolster the campaign to secure equivalent market access for Australian red meat in the UK.

“There are real opportunities for the Australian red meat industry, providing we can compete with other countries on an equal footing,” Mr Norton said.

The current trade arrangement and system of preferential quota allocations was untenable in a post-Brexit world, he said.

“We feel strongly that now is the right time to re-balance the trading disparities Australia has faced in the region for the past 45 years,” he said.

MLA’s efforts would include boosting its presence in London, expanding its market access team and continuing to work with the Australian Government.

“We will strongly pursue the case for non-discriminatory access to the UK market and its population of more than 65 million people,” he said.

The UK has 65 million potential consumers of Australian red meat.  Photo: MLA

The Australian red meat industry has a long-standing affiliation with the UK, despite the significant loss of market access when the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973.

Mr Norton said MLA’s plan for the UK was not about pursuing one market over another. It was about proactively meeting the expected new political time-frames due to an early general election and the UK’s departure from the EU.

“Equally, our industry and government must also maintain a steely focus on negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU. These are relationships we want to see prosper and that can only happen when Australia is afforded equal opportunity in what is a very competitive market,” Mr Norton said.

Australian sheep producers would benefit from boosted UK market access, say industry leaders. Photo: MLA

Apart from trade access, Mr Norton highlighted the opportunities and shared benefit for further collaboration between the Australian and UK red meat industries, which he had discussed in a meeting with influential UK agricultural lobby group, the National Farmers Union (NFU).

“The UK has some 17 million hectares of domestic agricultural land but UK investors own far more in Australia, at just over 27 million hectares,” he said.

“The UK is by far the largest foreign investor in Australian agricultural land, the majority of which is used for livestock production.

“Therefore, renewed trade negotiations will also act to support the UK’s existing agricultural interests in Australia,” Mr Norton said.

Snapshot of Australian meat exports – source MLA 2016

Beef (total beef exports 1,018,105 tonnes)

  1. Japan: 264,325 tonnes
  2. USA: 242,013 tonnes
  3. South Korea: 179,854 tonnes
  4. China: 94,040 tonnes
  5. Indonesia: 61,676 tonnes

Sheep meat (total sheep meat exports 375,485 tonnes)

  1. USA: 64,562 tonnes
  2. China: 59,449 tonnes
  3. UAE: 30,533 tonnes
  4. Malaysia: 24,674 tonnes
  5. Qatar: 18,254 tonnes