By Boyd Champness

EXPORTS of Australian produce have declined for the first time in at least 20 years, slipping 3% in the 1998-99 financial year.

Federal Trade Minister Mark Vaile attributed the decline to the impact of the East Asian economic crisis and lower US dollar commodity prices in the first half of the year.

But figures filtering through are now confirming what analysts have been saying for the past 12 months; while the Asian crisis was devastating it was short-lived.

Live cattle exports were probably hardest hit by the crisis, however, since then cattle exports have jumped 33% and sheep 7% for the year to November 1999, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last month.

Meat and Livestock Australia livestock exports account manager Bill Cordingley told the Stock and Land that year-to-November cattle export figures for 1999 were 755,000 head, an increase of 33% on this time last year.

“This result is even more striking given the strengthening trend in cattle prices through 1999 and the strong, stable Australian dollar,” he told the newspaper.

Mr Cordingley listed the Philippines, Indonesia and Egypt as the three key markets driving the revival.

The Philippines is the leading cattle market with almost 249,000 head exported, up 31% on 1998.

Egypt is Australias second largest market with 214,000 head exported, up 85%.

And Indonesia – which went from Australias largest export market to virtually stopping trade overnight – took 134,000 head over the same period, an amazing 436% increase from 1998.

Year-to-November exports for sheep have also improved to 4.7 million head, up 7% on the same period in 1998.

Kuwait, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates were again Australias biggest markets with Kuwait alone buying 1.16 million sheep and Jordan 1.07 million sheep.

And with the first trial shipment of live sheep in 10 years successfully making its way to Saudi Arabia, confidence is high.

But as Mr Cordingley noted, nothing dampens the live export trade more than a rising dollar.

“There are already reports in the Philippines that Australias firm cattle prices and strong dollar, combined with competition from frozen Irish and South American beef are placing pressure on imports,” he said.