LETTER: Exports not to blame for cattle shortages

QUEENSLAND live cattle exporters and the broader livestock sector share the AMIEU's frustrations and concerns about the lack of supply, which has been brought about by long-term drought.

We are all stakeholders in the red meat industry. Producers, lot feeders, transporters and exporters can sympathise all too well with the difficulties and uncertainties confronting processors and their employees. The same concerns and uncertainty are being shared within the Live Cattle Export industry at present.

Profitability in the beef cattle supply chain is being put under sustained pressure due to the current supply/demand imbalance, which has pushed prices to unprecedented highs.

Any calls for a cap on live cattle exports are fundamentally misdirected.

While the national cattle herd has plummeted to a 20-year low, 87 per cent of Australia's overall cattle turnoff in 2015 - some nine million head - were still processed domestically.

Disrupted supply due to drought, high input costs and a sluggish global market for beef are all compromising profitability in the supply chain.

It is important to understand that live trade mostly targets different lines of cattle to the processing sector, often from quite different catchment areas.

Most northern Australian cattle sourced by exporters are purpose-bred to be sold as younger, lighter animals for live export to south-east Asia.

It should also be noted that many Queensland cattle which would have been shipped out of Darwin previously are now being loaded out of Townsville, as a means of reducing transport distances and utilising port capacity in Townsville.

This is a good thing for the Queensland economy and local jobs.

Queensland's red meat sector is best served by strong live export and boxed sectors which maximise opportunities for producers with a wide range of market options.

This, in turn, promotes national herd growth, improvements in our production capacity and increases the overall economic value of the beef cattle industry.

The national livestock export figures for 2015 confirm the significant contribution the livestock export industry is making to the economy, to regional jobs and to leading improvements in our overseas markets in infrastructure, handling and in-market slaughter practices.

In this context, a market cap clearly isn't the answer. Exporters are naturally wary of any suggestions about caps on export numbers given the last time we saw government interference of this nature it effectively came in the form of the ban of cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011, which had a devastating and long-lasting effect impact on all stakeholders in the supply chain.

Queensland's red meat industry draws its long-term strength and resilience on the integrated way in which all players in the sector cooperate.

Such integration, which is a pillar of the national red meat sector's strategic accord, is a significant strength and helps us to grow our overall red meat production and output for the benefit of all stakeholders."

JAMES LEFTWICH

Queensland Livestock Exporters' Association