Australia looks to Middle East to boost beef exports

By Lee Adendorff

- Last updated on GMT

Australia eyes up the Middle East as a target for the county's beef exports
Australia eyes up the Middle East as a target for the county's beef exports

Related tags Australian beef Beef exports Middle east Australia

Australia needs to focus more on the Middle East as a long-term beef export destination, according to Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Suzannah Moss-Wright, as exports to the region climb.

Australian beef exports to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region increased to 64,399 tonnes (t) shipping weight (swt) in 2014 for a second record-breaking year in a row, according to industry body Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).

Saudi Arabia continues to take the lion’s share of Australian beef exports to the region – more than 32,000t swt in 2014, with important markets also in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jordan, Kuwait and Egypt. Chilled beef products have proved particularly popular, up 14% in 2014 to 20,067t swt in the MENA region, according to MLA figures, on the back of strong demand in the retail and high-end food service sectors.

“Australian beef is known as ‘clean and green’ and disease-free... there is a lot of brand loyalty to [it],”​ said Moss-Wright, adding that “halal certification has been crucial to its success in the Arab world”​. Moss-Wright said the halal certification process in Australia, overseen by the country’s Department of Agriculture, is well regarded at an international level, providing a significant market advantage. Australian beef has been an attractive option to fill the gap created by Saudi Arabia’s ban on US and Brazilian beef over disease concerns in 2010 and 2012, increasing Australia’s market share in the region from 2% of in 2010 to 7% in 2015, according to Moss-Wright.

While Saudi Arabia has solidified into one of Australia’s most lucrative beef export markets, other Arab nations are also providing promising growth, especially for top-of-the-range product. Egypt, a small but growing market, for example, took twice as much Australian beef in 2014 as in 2013, with increased demand for premium Australian product, such as Angus beef.

Queensland producer Signature Beef exports fortnightly via airfreight to Egypt and sales and production manager Tess Camm said the company had seen demand rise for both premium Angus beef cuts, as well as secondary cuts through retail channels. “Although we only export small volumes of chilled product to Egypt at the moment, there is definitely potential there with the increasing affluence in the country,”​ she said.

Her comments follow reports in local media that one of Australia’s largest meat processing companies, Thomas Foods International, has also begun exporting its premium certified Angus beef to Egypt.

While there has been much attention on China as an export destination, and the impact of an Australia-China free trade agreement on the beef industry, Moss-Wright said exports to the Arab world had actually surpassed exports to China in the first half of the year and were likely to continue on this trajectory. “Food security in the region is a major issue due to the lack of arable land, and 90% of all food consumed in the region is imported,”​ she said. With a population set to double by 2050, an estimated US$100 billion-plus will be spent on imported food at this time in the region.

Australian beef prices reached record highs in the first six months of 2015, thanks to higher demand from the US, a low Australian dollar and significant drought-induced turnoff. Total Australian exports of red meat in 2014-2015 were up 28% year-on-year with an export value of AU$16bn (US$11.21bn), according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Beef exports were the primary driver of total meat export value, increasing 41% year-on-year to a record AU$9.05bn (US$6.3bn).

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