The first thing we need to clarify is whether there is really a Chinese ban on Australian live lobster imports, or whether the Chinese Government has simply shut down the grey channels.
I don’t think this event is a matter of China suddenly toughening official entry requirements for Australian lobster. The regulations are quite clear and achievable – just technically more difficult and more expensive than the grey channel option.
If China has simply shut down the grey channels from HK, it is likely that the exporter/importers do not have the technology chains in place to go through the proper import procedures AND keep their lobsters alive AND make a profit. Thus the “16 hr/50% mortality” event remarked by Senator Colbeck in his press release.
Other Tasmanian products that may be at risk of being caught up in these events include abalone, wine, cheese – in fact any products where there is a high tariff applied on the China side compared with HK and where there is an apparent imbalance between the volumes arriving in HK and the reported volumes exported to China.
It is time to take stock of Tasmania’s trade development relationship with China and develop a sustainable approach.
No one likes to pay tax. If a door to reduced tariffs and quarantine compliance costs is ajar, I understand how tempting it can be to peek through. However, there is a difference between a peek and a sustainable industry strategy.
The ideal solution to this dilemma is a free trade agreement between China and Australia. That would assist the trade in foods immeasurably. However, such an agreement appears to be some time off yet.
In the meantime, we need to get organized with supply chain strategies for high value perishable foodstuffs, as building blocks towards a full FTA.
The Tasmanian government should be at work supporting the development of legal and technically achievable supply chains into China for high value perishable Tasmanian foodstuffs. With legal, efficient supply chains in place, the market for high quality Tasmanian food products in China will grow rapidly.
The effort could provide wider benefits for Tasmania.
The Chinese food industry is going through a period of rapid codification in support of quality assurance. This development gathered pace following the scandal surrounding the contamination of Chinese milk powder with melamine.
Tasmania has significant technical expertise in maintaining whole-of-chain food standards. We should exploit this advantage in China.
Rather than have Tasmanian Senators bark at China in support of practices that we would not ourselves accept, Tasmania should support Chinese moves to improve their food standards. It is Tasmanian producers who stand to benefit in the long term from a demand for higher food standards in China.