SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) – Australia’s government will help charter hundreds of planes full of products such as rock lobster, beef and dairy to key markets including China, Japan and Singapore, after the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of most commercial flights that usually carry fresh produce.
The government will provide A$110 million (S$96 million) to get Australian products to key markets, starting with the United Arab Emirates, China, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, the government said in a statement. The flights will leave from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.
Recent international flight groundings by airlines including Qantas Airways and Virgin Australia Holdings have made it impossible to get products including chilled seafood, red meat, dairy products and some fruit and vegetables to offshore markets.
“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,” Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said.
The planes will have capacity to carry medical supplies, medicines and equipment back to Australia.
The support comes as demand for Australian produce in China and some other key Asian markets has started to recover as restaurants reopen after months of shutdowns. The drop in demand from China as well as the flight disruptions had pummelled global producers, causing US lobster prices to fall to the lowest in at least four years and prompting New Zealand to release catches back into the wild.
The freight plan is part of an overall A$170 million support package, which also includes marketing grants and fee waivers for commercial fishers.
Mr Brad Adams, chief executive officer of the Western Australia-based company Ocean Grown Abalone, said there had been a small uptick in appetite from China, Hong Kong and Singapore, adding the company had sent a small shipment on a commercial flight to Hong Kong last weekend.
“We’ve gone from no demand to some demand,” he said. “We’ve got some orders for the next few months, at greatly reduced volumes compared to what we’re capable of doing.”
Mr Julian Harrington, chief executive of the Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council, also said there had been some improvement in demand for rock lobster and abalone in China.
Australia’s domestic appetite for seafood remained minimal, as hotels, restaurants and bars had progressively been shuttered as the government tries to stem the spread of the virus.