This recent growth continues a trend which saw Australian red meat exports to the Middle East rise 21% in 2013 compared to the year before. Last year the region bought around 61,000 tonnes each of Australian beef and lamb, and 44,000 tonnes of mutton.
Around one third of the region’s annual US$8bn in Australian imports is food or agricultural products. But Australian producers claim their government is not doing enough to engage regional governments in order to smooth the export process.
“Given the value of the Middle East to Australian agriculture, and in particular lamb and cheap exports – the Middle East is our largest market – I guess we’d be suggesting there needs to be a greater focus in that area, and potentially more resources,” said David Larkin, chair of the Australian Meat Industry Council, in an ABC radio interview.
“We would absolutely support a free-trade agreement with the GCC countries, and in that process, not only a discussion around tariffs, but around the technical aspects of the market… and assistance with our trading partners in the science of Australian product,” he added.
Live export controversy
The Australian trade minister has reportedly set up an inquiry to examine possible trade agreements with Middle East countries. But any agreement is likely to be slow in coming, and will also face opposition from within Australia over issues such as live exports.
Middle Eastern markets now dominate Australia’s live export trade with 98% of sales, but despite theoretically strict welfare and slaughter requirements, reports of animal cruelty continue to surface. Although the trade has declined, partly due to Saudi Arabia’s shift to importing animals from Africa, Larkin rejected any suggestion the trade should be discontinued.
“The Australian red meat industry supports market access on a scientific and level playing field basis. There is a very strong school of thought that says that live export actually opens market doors for us… We don’t believe it’s appropriate to be talking about bans to any Australian industry,” he said.
Away from meat, Australia’s grain producers are also focusing more on the Middle East, with a delegation of wheat growers from Western Australia visiting Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman last month. Currently Middle East markets import 19% of the state’s wheat harvest, according to the Western Australia Trade Office (WATO).
“Connectivity between the region and Western Australia provides the means to meet, connect, communicate and expand business relationships. The meeting held with each country provided the delegation with an opportunity to share Western Australia's capacity in terms of both the supply and services of quality agriculture products, and the potential investment opportunities in Western Australia's agribusiness sector,” said Pankaj Savara, commissioner at WATO Dubai.