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Cattle farmers feel brunt of China’s export licence suspension

NSW cattle farmer Robert Mackenzie says he is disappointed at this week’s news that Chinese customs officials have suspended the export licence of a northern NSW abattoir he uses to export his high-quality Angus beef to customers in China.

Two weeks ago he was celebrating a deal to sell a shipment of grain-fed Angus beef to a buyer in Shanghai that was worth more than $150,000.

But he says his Chinese customers were “shocked and disappointed” to learn this week that his prime beef might not be able to be shipped to them because of the temporary suspension of the licence of the meat processing plant in Casino in northern NSW.

“I’m worried Macka's Australian Black Angus Beef - Homeand disappoint­ed,” he said from his farm in Gloucester, north of Newcastle in NSW. Mackenzie, who runs a business with more than 3000 Angus cattle, has been selling beef to China since 2015, a business which has seen him visit China 14 times over the past few years.

Now he is hoping the federal government can work with Beijing to resolve the issue which saw the suspension of the export license of four meat processing plants in Australia.

Chinese customs officials say the suspension is due to “labelling” and “technical issues” but there are fears Beijing has chosen the $3.2bn beef export trade from Australia to express its anger at the Morrison government’s call for an inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chinese officials, including China’s Ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, have indicated that they see this as Australia teaming up with the Trump administration to make a political point.

Mr Mackenzie said the four plants that had their licences suspended this week handled 35 per cent of the Australian beef trade with China.

He said his cattle had been booked for processing at the abattoir in Casino which also had facilities for the proper labelling of his beef and it was not possible for them to be processed at other plants.

“Our cattle is booked in and allocated a slot,” he said. “They have got all of the links for the lids which go on our boxes.

“You just can’t leave one plant for another. Most of the other plants are pretty busy at the moment.”

Mr Mackenzie said 80 per cent of his business went through the Casino abattoir.

He said he hoped the issue could be resolved by discussions between Canberra and Chinese customs officials.

He would not comment on whether he believed the suspension of the licences was political.

“I was told there have been some labelling issues,” he said.

“It is not up to me to say anything different. We know that when it comes to China the labelling has to be correct. If it is not correct, there is an issue.”

He said the same plant had been one of six which suffered similar problems in 2017 with Chinese customs officials.

That issue took several months of high-level dialogue to resolve.

Mr Mackenzie said he hoped this new issue “would be resolved in a matter of days, not months”.

While his business ties with customers in China is strong, he now faces the prospect of his beef not being able to be exported.

“We are in close discussion with our Chinese customers,” he said.

“We have a duty to keep them informed of any change in when we are able to deliver our beef.”

He said the temporary ban on product from the four meat processing plants would push up the price of beef in China.