Home » Rock lobster fisher warns ‘hundreds’ of jobs at risk unless China lifts ban

Rock lobster fisher warns ‘hundreds’ of jobs at risk unless China lifts ban

Australian lobster fishers say they are “treading water” over whether China will lift punishing trade sanctions on their catch before the end of the financial year.

Hopes of an end to bans on live and chilled exports were raised when the Chinese government last month decided to scrap punitive tariffs on Australian wine shipments. 

South Australian fisher Kyri Toumazos told 9news.com.au the mental stress of the snap decision nearly four years ago has left the economy of coastal fishing communities hanging by a thread.

South Australian fisher Kyri Toumazos says the industry is hopeful China will lift its ban on Australian live and chilled exports. (Supplied)

“When China imposed this snap ban on our catch the price of lobster plummeted, leaving operators struggling and trading on goodwill to maintain equipment to ensure employment in local coastal communities, and it’s been incredibly tough,” he said.

“We are happy to see movement for other sectors but our industry is still treading water and waiting.”

The rock lobster industry in South Australia alone employs about 1000 full-time staff providing major flow-on benefits to the state’s economy.

In 2020, Australian exports valued at about $20 billion, including seafood, beef, barley, coal and wine producers, were hit with trade sanctions as relations between Canberra and Beijing sunk to new lows.

Since the warming in diplomatic relations over the past 18 months, nearly all have been lifted, but trade barriers on rock lobster and beef remain.

Australian rock lobsters remain shut out of the lucractive Chinese market. (Getty)

There have been no direct live lobster exports from Australia to China since 2020, when a $2 million shipment was stuck on the Shanghai tarmac after China’s customs agency claimed the lobsters were contaminated.

International business expert Leigh Howard, chief executive of Asialink Business at the University of Melbourne, says the trade ban has forced the industry to seek opportunities in secondary markets including Malaysia and Vietnam. But none have been as lucrative as China.

“More than 90 per cent of Australia’s lobster exports were going to China before the trade bans and unlike many other affected export categories, lobsters are perishable and so the overnight trade bans were devastating,” he said.

“Given the lifting of trade bans on barley and more recently wine, there is a growing sense of optimism but still caution on the timing.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has held his first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and a lot of ground was covered, 9News political editor Charles Croucher says.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The federal government has made repairing relations with China a priority since it was elected in 2022. (9News)

“Australian lobsters are still viewed as premium by Chinese customers, but there are also substitute options from other countries which have filled the void.

“If the China market reopens, the big question is will Australian lobsters still have an edge due to their high quality?”

The Albanese government has made repairing relations with China a priority since it was elected in 2022.

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“Having China back on board will ensure during our high catch rate times, our fishes out on the water are economically viable, but we need China to make an announcement soon,” Toumazos said.

“Our industry needs and wants a strong relationship with China – we want our government to continue the strong collaborative relationship with China.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been contacted for comment.

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