Australia and China recently agreed a new live cattle export health protocol (Protocol), paving the way for Australian slaughter and feeder cattle to be exported to China. The Protocol, which has been several years in the making, is anticipated to lead to up to a million head of cattle being exported annually to China within the next 10 years, according to Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce.

While Australia currently exports dairy and breeder cattle to China under separate health protocols, the Protocol means Australia will be the first country to export slaughter and feeder cattle to China.

In order to export slaughter or feeder cattle to China, exporters will first be required to meet certain requirements under the Protocol, including that:

  • the cattle must have been born and reared on a farm of origin (which must meet certain requirements), or have been resident on a farm of origin, for at least 3 months prior to export;
  • for slaughter cattle being exported from the Bluetongue virus (“BTV”) affected zone in Australia (located in north-eastern Australia) to the Culicoides seasonal active zone in China (located in southern China) – the cattle must be quarantined for at least 60 days in an approved quarantine facility located in the BTV free zone in Australia, and while in quarantine the cattle must pass certain health tests;
  • for feeder cattle being exported from the BTV free zone in Australia to the Culicoides seasonal active zone in China – the cattle must be quarantined for at least 30 days in an approved quarantine facility located in the BTV free zone, and while in quarantine the cattle must pass certain health tests;
  • for all other slaughter and feeder cattle – the cattle must be quarantined for at least 7 days in an approved quarantine facility;
  • the cattle must be Hormone Growth Promotant-free, certified as healthy, and must not be cull animals or detectably pregnant;
  • slaughter cattle must be processed within 14 days of entering China; and
  • feeder cattle must be processed within 3 months of entering China.

In addition to the requirements under the Protocol, exporters will need to develop commercial relationships with local importers, establish Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System-compliant supply chains and be issued with import permits by the relevant Chinese authorities.

Given the number of requirements involved, it is expected to take several months before commercial arrangements are finalised by exporters and the first slaughter or feeder cattle are ready for export to China under the Protocol.

The Protocol provides unprecedented access to the Chinese market, allowing significant market diversification options for Australian producers and exporters alike. Coupled with the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (which will eliminate the current 10% tariff on live exports over the coming 4 years), the Protocol paves the way for improved returns for Australian producers and exporters and a significant boost to the sector.