Emergency government-funded flights will send $800million worth of seafood to Asia in a bid to keep Australian exporters alive during the coronavirus crisis.
The freight planes are part of a $170million exporter support package and will return with vital medical supplies and equipment to help Australia fight against COVID-19.
Two hundred flights will leave for China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates in the next six months under the deal as borders across the world are shut to slow the spread of the disease.
Pictured: Sydney Fish Market in December. The government is paying for freight planes to send $800million worth of seafood overseas to combat the impact of the coronavirus
The arrangement will benefit suppliers exporting rock lobsters, abalone, fresh fish and prawns, as well as dairy products.
The special flights carrying 40 tonnes of product each will leave from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.
It comes amid the widespread grounding of fleets by Qantas and Virgin Australia preventing exporters from moving their goods overseas.
China’s decision to stop overseas trade on January 24 has hit Western Australia’s lobster industry hard, which exports more than 95 per cent of its produce to the Asian country.
Before the pandemic, Australia’s lucrative western rock lobster industry was worth about $500million.
The fall in Chinese demand has led to the price of U.S lobster dropping to its lowest point in at least four years.
Trade minister Simon Birmingham said the government plan was vital to kickstart Australia’s economic recovery.
Pictured: Medical supplies for COVID-19 testing. The flights will come back with vital equipment to help Australian hospitals fight back against the deadly virus
‘We recognise the current COVID-19 crisis is placing immense pressure on Australian exporters, many of whom felt the earliest and deepest aspects of the economic downturn,’ he 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.
‘Necessary public health restrictions are already placing massive pressure on business viability and job security. We can’t afford for our farmers, fishers and exporters to be under similar pressure just because they can’t get their goods onto a plane.’
The chief executive behind the co-operative leading Western Australia’s biggest lobster processing companies said bringing medical equipment back to Australia would help keep costs down.
‘You pay a premium for flying the plane empty so anything we can get on the back freight would be of benefit,’ Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative’s Matt Rutter told ABC News.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 4,711
New South Wales: 2,182
Western Australia: 364
South Australia: 337
Australian Capital Territory: 80
Northern Territory: 19
TOTAL CASES: 4,711
‘Anything we can get on back freight will help us with the rate.
‘We are very keen to make that available to the government first and foremost if they need it for medical supplies and respirators and those sorts of things.’
Mr Rutter said he hoped lobster prices would reach at least $25 a kilogram following the announcement of the charter flights.
The price had reached as high as $90 a kilogram in January, before dropping to $20 this week as the world economy grinds to a halt.
Other government attempts to support the seafood industry during the pandemic include the waiving of $10million in levies for the rest of 2020.
It follows a video emerging showing 90 tonnes of Australian medical supplies being exported to China just weeks before the crisis reached pandemic levels.
The footage showed boxes of surgical masks being stacked up at Perth airport before being sent to Wuhan on February 8 – when there were 15 cases of coronavirus in Australia.
A Chinese-owned property company, Risland Australia, was responsible for shipping off thousands of supplies, news.com.au reported.
The video showed stockpiles of white supply boxes stacked up alongside the check-in counters at the airport.
Pictured: Australian-based Chinese property company Risland shipped 90 tonnes worth of vital medical supplies to Wuhan from Perth on February 8
The hoarded supplies were piled almost at the shoulder height of passing travellers and were spread out on trollies and several metres across the floor.
Risland said last month in an online post ’90 tonnes of selective medical supplies’ were sent by ‘air transport direct from Sydney to Wuhan via corporate jet’.
A photo showed four workers inside a warehouse packed high with thousands of boxes of protective clothing and holding up a Chinese sign.
The post said Risland: ‘Undertake such a campaign to show our faiths to Wuhan people and our ultimate appreciation to those who work days and nights and fight against the virus at the front line’.