Seafood Industry Australia (SIA) welcomed the recent Federal Government’s $110 million International Freight Assistance announcement for farmers, fishermen and producers. The Australian seafood industry has been in turmoil since orders to China evaporated on 24 January. As the voice of the Australian seafood industry we asked our members what their needs were, how we could keep the industry afloat, and we took that message to Governments right around the country. We asked the Federal Government for financial support and coordination assistance to reopen export markets; now we can tick that box, SIA CEO Jane Lovell said. In addition, $10 million in Commonwealth levies paid by commercial fishers to Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) will also be waived.

Lobbyists believe that due to major air freight shortages that had disrupted supply chains more than $500 million worth of Australian exports could have been stranded in the nation, However, the produce can now find its way back out into the global marketplace on hundreds of commercial flights by carriers like Qantas and Virgin. Our nation produces enough food in this country to feed around 75 million people and of course, much of our export earnings come from agriculture and seafood. But the problem at present is that around 90 odd per cent of our freight that normally leaves Australia is in passenger planes that are no longer flying into the nation.

The National Farmers’ Federation has also welcomed support to ensure Australia’s world class seafood, dairy and red meat products continue to be enjoyed in key Asian markets. Australian farmers export 75 per cent of what they produce, NFF President Fiona Simson said. The seafood industry was one of the first sectors to be impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, with decrease in demand from China, forecast to wipe more than $300,000 million of the industry bottom line this year.

The government believes that the primary objective is, first and foremost, to make sure that fishers and farmers are able to get their high quality, valuable produce back into those export markets and to do so at affordable rates for them to be able to keep employing Australians and generating export dollars. Now, wherever possible the backhaul – so the goods that are coming back into Australia on these return aircraft – will meet the priority medical supplies, protective equipment and pharmaceuticals needs of the nation. The government will fund 200, 40-tonne flights of $4 million worth of Australian produce to China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. Flights will depart from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. But not from not Cairns, not Adelaide, not Hobart, not Darwin.

Also, Mr Michael Byrne, has been appointed as International Freight Coordinator General. Byrne will advise the Government on operational aspects such as departure points, arrival points, freight mix, product eligibility and other factors. The sort of products that may be eligible include seafood (including lobsters), premium red meat (including beef and pork), dairy (such as fresh milk and yoghurt) and horticulture (such as premium fruits and packaged salad or vegetables). Mr Byrne has significant international logistics experience as Managing Director of Australia’s two largest logistics companies Toll Holdings and Linfox plus as a non-executive director of Australia Post. Mr Byrne will work with Austrade to help establish arrangements with exporters, airlines, freight forwarders and industry bodies plus oversee the mechanism’s operations including advising the Government of destinations, freight selection and prioritisation.