Shanghai bites – trading with the Dragon

View From the Paddock: Shanghai bites


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Will Australia's red meat continue to be Shanghai's premium choice, especially in the current political climate between our country and China? Sino-Australian View From the Paddock expert columnist, Ben Lyons comments.

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Dr Ben Lyons, international trade and investment advisor.

Dr Ben Lyons, international trade and investment advisor.

Shanghai has just played host not only to its second AFL fixture but also one of the global food world’s largest expos – SIAL.

Like Shanghai itself, SIAL is on a scale like no other.

Literally thousands of exhibitors across the food and beverage spectrum cover not just one convention hall but more than a dozen, with more 100,000 visitors daily. 

With 18 years in China I am used to the scale but it has been three years since my last visit to this expo and the speed of China’s sophistication as a premium red meat market has been dramatic.

Talking to old work colleagues in the days prior, it was intriguing to hear of young urban professionals, especially that key demographic of young females, now craving a good quality steak every week. 

Value chains are evolving to a more tightly specified branded product, and where it used to be Elders Fine Foods, you now have an expanding number of China-based companies espousing grass and grain-fed Angus and Wagyu premium cuts.    

Red meat was of particular interest this time round for myself, and the Australian industry was strongly represented by processors, producers and MLA.

Education of this still-nascent market will be key if Australian red meat is to continue to be the premium choice above a rapidly expanding Latin America cohort led by Uruguay and Argentina, all of whom had significant floor space at SIAL.

Indian buffalo was less of a threat but still present. 

The backdrop for Australia-China relations leading into this event have not been as positive as in years previous.

Indeed, for Shanghai-based Australian businesses, many have said they have not seen an Australian minister of note for more than 12 months – a frightening statistic when you consider it’s our number one market and one we have invested in heavily this decade.  

Trade Minister Steve Ciobo’s presence during the week at a range of events, and the strong contingent of both supporters and businesses that the AFL mustered, were positively received by the market, but there still hangs a gloom of market access risk for all trying to dance with China’s customs regime (or should I say, regimes). 

And there is still market access work to do a plenty – one fantastic beef dish I tried at SIAL was garnished with avocado but you can bet it wasn't Australian but probably Chilean or Mexican.

The noise this week back in Canberra around Chinese influence smacks more of political point scoring and a kangaroo court than anything constructive; and it makes me wonder if any Chinese money will turn out for the CPC tender, given the always-sinister undertones of our media reporting on foreign investment from China.

Whenever I see such articles and imagine the word China swapped with United States, I wonder if the article would even have been published. 

 – Dr Ben Lyons, international trade and investment advisor

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