Australian government provides AUD 110 million support package to seafood industry

Australia’s seafood export trade will get some much-needed assistance in the form of an AUD 110 million (USD 67 million, EUR 61 million) package to get national seafood products to offshore markets, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) announced on Wednesday.

In a press release, the Australian government said it is waiving levies of around AUD 10 million (USD 6 million, EUR 5.6 million) for all commonwealth fishers. The support will cover the fishers' levies for the remainder of 2020.

Both initiatives are in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has frozen most global markets, including China’s, which is Australia’s most important seafood export destination. There have been recent indications that China’s market is recovering somewhat, but travel restrictions have made it hard for the agricultural and fisheries sector to export products overseas.

The initiative will be sourced from the government’s AUD 1 billion (USD 606 million, EUR 557 million) Relief and Recovery Fund, created to support regions, communities, and industry sectors that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said with the help of International Freight Assistance Mechanism, freight flights will be made available to Australian farmers and fishers to get their products exported.

“This will help restore key freight routes for our farmers until commercial capacity can be restored again,” McCormack said. “We are doing everything possible to help our high-value agricultural and fisheries exporters get their produce on airplanes and into overseas markets. Everything we are doing as a government in response to this pandemic is focused on saving lives and saving livelihoods and we know our agriculture industry is key to this.”

Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said COVID-19- related travel bans had led to major air freight shortages, causing disruptions in supply chains around the world. Getting flights off the ground will alleviate the impact of the pandemic to the fishers and farmers, Birmingham said.

“This temporary action will help Australian producers to protect the jobs of those who rely upon Australia’s export of safe, quality food into the world,” Birmingham said. “Getting our export sector back on its feet is crucial to reduce job losses through the crisis and a critical part of the ultimate economic recovery.”

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the initiative gives priorities to high-demand agricultural and fisheries exports that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis.

“We’re backing our farmers by making sure they can get more of their high-quality products into overseas markets,” Littleproud said. “The more agricultural exports we can secure, the more regional jobs we can protect.”

Assistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries Jonno Duniam said the initiative is crucial to the fishing industry, one of the hardest-hit industry when access to China halted in January.

“Unlocking key international markets will get thousands of fishers, divers, deckhands, and processors back on the job, and the levy relief will help to keep fishers financially afloat,” he said.

The International Freight Assistance Mechanism will ensure that fish, seafood and agricultural products get exported to China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the UAE, with four key departure hubs: Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth.

Byrne has been appointed as the international freight coordinator general to oversee the efforts. Byrne was managing director of Toll Holdings and Linfox, Australia’s two largest logistics companies. He also served as a non-executive director of Australia Post. His job will entail working with Austrade for an arrangement with exporters, airlines, freight-forwarders and industry bodies, as well as overseeing the mechanism’s operations, including advising Australia’s government of destinations, freight selection, and prioritization.

Regarding the cancelation of national levies, Seafood Industry Australia, the industry’s trade body, said the move by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) will make a big difference in aiding the survival of the country’s commercial fishing industry.

“This announcement provides some welcome relief for Australia’s commercial fishers, who have been feeling the financial brunt of this pandemic since January,” SIA CEO Jane Lovell said. “We called on all governments across Australia to help us through the next six to 12 months by removing all fees and charges across all of agriculture – not just the seafood industry – and we are pleased AFMA has announced this deferral.

The decision was made after the trade group successfully lobbied the regional government of New South Wales to drop its own levy on the industry.

“With very little to no income trickling through for industry, asking us to pay these significant management fees is a near impossible task,” Lovell said. “We’d like to thank AFMA, and we look forward to welcoming similar announcements from Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia in the near future.”

Photo courtesy of Seafood Industry Australia


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