Thoroughbred industry races into lucrative China market

EXCLUSIVE: The Darling Downs' multi-million-dollar thoroughbred industry is riding greater opportunities as freight airline Cathay Pacific books more horse exports from Wellcamp airport.

Eighty horses were sent to China or Hong Kong after last year's Gold Coast Magic Millions yearling sale, with that number tipped to be beaten at this month's sale.

Thoroughbred Breeders Queensland Association president Basil Nolan said China was a "major player" with demand rising for Darling Downs stock, and credited Wellcamp airport's accessibility.

"Wellcamp is well situated in the heart of the thoroughbred industry in Queensland," he said.

"We've sold a lot of horses to China over the past four or five years and they are buying all the time."

Cathay Pacific 747-8 jumbo cargo plane flies into Wellcamp Airport bound for Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific 747-8 jumbo cargo plane flies into Wellcamp Airport bound for Hong Kong. Kevin Farmer

Cathay Pacific cargo manager Nigel Chynoweth said horse exports via Wellcamp was a strong market with demand increasing in line with major thoroughbred and performance sales around the country.

The existing freight route of Sydney, Melbourne and Toowoomba, then direct to Hong Kong, had helped boost export numbers almost three-fold, he said.

Importing live horses, however, remained subject to strict quarantine laws and requirements.

The country's three live horse import facilities are in Melbourne with early moves to build a new centre in either NSW or Queensland.

The Federal Government operates the country's largest at Mickleham in Victoria, while two others are privately operated.

"We do a lot of exporting horses overseas," Mr Chynoweth said.

"We take a lot of equestrian horses and we're expecting to export a few endurance horses as well for the European season and a lot of those horses come from around (the Darling Downs) area."

Darling Downs horse breeder Basil Nolan backs the culling of flying foxes in the short term.
Basil Nolan.

Mr Chynoweth said the airline could meet any import demand for major events including the Commonwealth Games, but it was conditional on quarantine and biosecurity facilities at Wellcamp.

"It is an opportunity that could be presented to Cathay and we won't need to do anything extra," he said.

"For us, we could do it tomorrow."

Mr Nolan said the TBQA supported any plan to build a quarantine facility in the state.

"We would be in favour of building here," he said.

Food Leaders Australia CEO Dr Ben Lyons welcomed the increased live horse export industry.

TSBE's Ben Lyons talks to media at the Access China 16 delegation announcement taking passsengers from Wellcamp airport to China flying Qantas for a five-day program aimed at activating trade opportunities, Friday, May 27, 2016.
Food Leaders Australia CEO Dr Ben Lyons. Kevin Farmer

"This is a great opportunity for our region and again highlights the myriad of potential opportunities that we now have with this Hong Kong connection," he said.

"The logistics makes sense. Toowoomba and the Darling Downs have a strong thoroughbred industry that is already a significant export industry in terms of not just horses, but know-how."

FLA had connected export-ready businesses with suitable markets in China and the region was "something world aviation and freight participants are starting to talk about", he said.

"We still have some access issues with China but they are being worked on ... by a number of parties. We are on the map but still ... explaining our capability."