Live cattle exporters optimistic of sailing through prawn trade tensions with Vietnam

A six-month trade suspension on importing uncooked prawn products is set to end on July 6, and watching the changes closely will be Australia’s live cattle trade.

Why does the cattle industry care about prawns?

Two months ago cattle exporters received advice from the Federal Government to “work on contingencies” in case there was a trade disruption with Vietnam, Australia’s second-biggest customer for live cattle.

The concern was Vietnam, which exports about $55 million of prawn product to Australia each year, might retaliate because of Australia’s raw prawn ban and enforce some of its own trade restrictions on cattle.

The advice to exporters was Vietnam had made inquiries about how Australia managed bluetongue virus.

The concern was Vietnam may change its stance on the virus and start importing Australian cattle from below the bluetongue line only, essentially shutting northern Australia out of the trade.

It was a threat the cattle industry has been reluctant to talk about, until now.

“The situation that was facing exporters some weeks ago was that they did receive advice [from the Federal Government] that exporters may need to have a contingency, in case there was any disruption to trade or any issue, that they have an alternative destination for their livestock,” Simon Westaway, Australian Livestock Exporters Council chief executive, said.

“So exporters were told to have an extra level of awareness and put some extra preparations in place, but really, there wasn’t a major issue, and volumes of live cattle to Vietnam have actually been increasing in recent months.”

Mr Westaway said exporters had been working on contingency plans for Vietnam, including loading cattle from different ports [in southern Australia].

But he was keen to stress that contingency plans were not unusual for the industry, which often had to deal with trade uncertainties.

Prawn trade expected to resume soon

Last week the federal Department of Agriculture said it was working to develop interim import conditions to allow the safe resumption of trade in uncooked prawn and prawn meat, and indicated trade would resume in July under new import conditions.

Mr Westaway said ALEC had been briefed and felt optimistic going forward.

“It’s been a very positive development,” he said.

“What we want to see happen is a continuation of more normalised trade between Australia and Vietnam. We want to see the Vietnamese economy continue to grow.

“There was a view that there may have been an implication for Australian live cattle exports to Vietnam, and we’ll need to watch how things pan out, but we see some positives about where things are heading.”

In a statement to ABC Rural, the department said the potential implications on the live cattle trade between Vietnam and Australia had not played any role in the Government’s considerations with policies for raw prawn imports.

“Decisions around import conditions centre on individual commodities and ensuring biosecurity risks are appropriately managed, based on the best available evidence,” the statement read.

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