Canada seeks export beef access to Australia

A draft review by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has recommended that Canada be added to the list of countries that can apply to Australia for market access for fresh beef.

A consultation process following the draft review is underway, with stakeholders able to provide feedback until 4pm Wednesday, February 28.

“The department invites comments on the draft review, particularly whether Canada’s animal health status is sufficient for it to be considered an applicant country as per the beef review,” a DAFF statement said.

“All submissions received will be carefully considered when finalising this review.”

More hurdles to clear

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Canada still has a number of hurdles to clear beyond this review before commercial trade in beef to Australia could commence.

Food Safety Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is conducting an independent assessment of Canada’s bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) status, which commenced in March last year following Canada’s formal application for access to Australia’s market for fresh (chilled and frozen) beef.

It is not clear how long the FSANZ process will take.

Should the draft review process underway result in a formal recommendation by DAFF that Canada be added to the list of countries that can apply for access, DAFF would then commence a second-stage assessment to determine if Canada can meet Australia’s published import conditions for fresh (chilled and frozen) beef.

This will be a critically important element of the review process for the highly-biosecurity sensitive Australian beef sector, to determine if the Canadian production and biosecurity systems are equivalent to Australian standards and have appropriate oversight systems to manage risks in place.

“Australia’s current entry requirements for fresh beef and beef products require these assessments to be completed,” the Department email drawing attention to the review process stated.

‘Multi-step process’

Australian Meat Industry Council trade and technical affairs general manager Sam Munsie said the review is part of a multi-step assessment and consultation process.

The draft review released on December 11  indicates the Department believes any potential hazards and risks from Canadian beef imports to Australia are manageable and would meet Australia’s appropriate level of protection.

“Their recommendation in the draft is to go ahead and do the second piece of work which is to actually assess whether Canada’s systems and standards could meet our requirements including whether they are equivalent to Australian standards,” Mr Munsie explained.

He said that while AMIC was still reviewing the draft report, AMIC’s policy position on imports recognises that trade is a two-way street and the importance of adhering to the World Trade Organizations rules which enable countries such as Australia to have market access to many countries around the world.

“That said, we will closely review the science that the Department puts out to make a technical assessment on whether we agree with the conclusions the department reaches,” he said.

“But certainly we have no objections to the Department progressing this work because as a trade-dependent nation, it is in Australia’s broader interests to play by the rules that we need for our own exports.”

The list of countries which have previously met the initial threshold to gain approval to apply for access for fresh beef to Australia are Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United States and Vanuatu.

Small tonnages of fresh beef have been imported to Australia from countries such as Japan and New Zealand in recent years, but a combination of Australia’s large production sector, which significantly exceeds the size of its domestic market, and the competitiveness of Australian beef in international markets, has limited beef and beef product imports into Australia to date.