China has moved to ban the imports of chilled beef from Australia citing food safety concerns, according to media reports in China and Australia.
While there has been no official statement from any Chinese government agency or department, according to a number of reports, Chinese authorities have stated that Australian abattoirs no longer have the correct certification.
This is being traced back to August, when Chinese authorities issued a rule change for importing beef into the country, which Australian exporters apply to both chilled and frozen beef.
Reports say the Chinese have now clarified that those rules only apply to frozen beef and in turn have suspended imports of chilled beef from Australia until further notice. Chilled beef represents 10% of all beef imported from Australia into China, according to government data.
There is a problem
However, Australia’s Department of Agriculture has said that no one in China has advised the department of a ban on the import of our chilled beef, nor has it advised the department of any food safety concerns with this product.
“Australia's meat production system is robust and ensures product is safe, wholesome and suitable for human consumption,” the Department said in a statement.
However, Andrew Robb, the Minister of Trade, acknowledged the issue and said his department was working closely with Chinese authorities to maintain access for meat and other commodities exported there.
“Our trading partners occasionally seek further information about the commodities we export to them. This is the case regarding recent queries from China about our system for the production of chilled meat,” said Robb.
Not all about safety
However, many in the Australian industry are of the opinion that the ban has lees to do with safety that it is being portrayed.
Duncan Fraser, president of the National Farmers’ Federation, said that China should inform Australia clearly of the food safety concerns because there have not been any clear signals and the ban is related to other issues.
“They need to let us know as soon as possible so we can deal with those issues but I think you’ve got to deal with ongoing trade negotiations,” said Fraser.
Fraser claimed that China is frustrated over free trade agreement talks between Australia and China, which are expected to resume before the end of the year.
Others believe that the ban serves is a non-tariff barrier to protect China’s local industry, with reports claiming that Chinese authorities will reconsider allowing imports to resume under a quota system if shortages occur.