There is nothing surprising in these developments ( Rock lobster export crisis, HERE ).

Tasmanian lobster fishermen, and I suspect Minister Green, have been operating in the knowledge that the main supply channel for Tasmanian live lobsters into the China market is via Hong Kong.

This channel exists primarily to bypass mainland China’s quarantine procedures and taxes.

But inevitably this route to mainland China presents risks.

The industry has chosen to ignore the risks this represents to the industry, because they have been getting good prices.

Exporting live lobster, and keeping them alive until they reach the end customer in mainland China, is a technically tricky business.

It is also expensive – especially if you follow the full mainland China rules.

Senator Colbeck shines some light onto the problem in his press statement: “I understand a very small amount of exports got into China – under strict and expensive tariff conditions – following November 15th. The very last shipment took sixteen hours to clear customs and had a mortality rate of almost 50 per cent. That was clearly unacceptable and totally unviable for the industry.”

Instead of avoiding the core issue, Senator Colbeck should instead be asking questions such as:

– How many tonnes of Australian lobster was exported to Hong Kong in the past 12 months?
– How many tonnes of Australian lobster was exported to China in the past 12 months?
– How many tonnes of Australian lobster was declared through Chinese customs and quarantine in the past 12 months?
– Will Australia accept Chinese foodstuffs that have not passed through strict Australian quarantine inspection?
– What can Australia do to smooth the legal trade in high value perishable foodstuffs with mainland China?

The real problem behind this development appears to be that the Tasmanian Rock Lobster industry has not invested in a viable business chain to sustain its exports to China.

Catch and forget is not the answer.

Another Tasmanian industry appears to have been built as a house of cards.

I expect Mr Green will see sense in fixing the problem with a roundtable, pre-Christmas emergency bailout and taxpayer-funded industry restructure.

I would argue for negotiations with China on a fully transparent supply chain strategy.

Ben Quin is the MD of two Australian-owned Chinese companies: one involved in food manufacturing and retailing, one in engineering design and manufacture. He has been actively involved in business between Australia and China, Japan and USA for 20 years. He maintains a residence in Zhongshan City, Guangdong Province and also in Triabunna, Tasmania.

First published: 2010-11-30 01:48 PM

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