The decision to restrict access for Qatari passenger flights to Australia is a pretty short sighted decision from the Australian Government, particularly when it comes to our boxed sheep meat trade and the proposed phase out of the live sheep export sector. The air freight avenue to send “bag lamb” carcass to the MENA region via passenger flights is a part of the solution to offer alternative market destinations to WA farmers, particularly if live sheep is to be phased out.
We need to be doing all we can to rebuild relationships into the MENA region and develop pathways for increased access for boxed sheep meat. This decision to limit access for Qatari airlines will not help our chances at all. Airfreight volumes to MENA for Australian sheep meat remains below pre-Covid levels. We should be encouraging this airfreight option for turnoff to assist WA growers, particularly for the “bag lamb” market.
Analysis of the Australian sheep meat export air freight volumes specifically highlight that much of the decline through the Covid period was due to a reduction in traffic to the MENA region. Indeed, from 2019 to 2022 annual air freight volumes of sheep meat to the MENA region from Australia declined by 71.2%. Meanwhile the sheep meat export air freight to all destinations other than the MENA region grew by 78.5% from 2019 to 2022.
A comparison of total airfreight volumes, sheep meat airfreight volumes and air passenger numbers to MENA highlights that increased air passenger traffic is required in order to build capacity to ship increased airfreight. Although, as demonstrated through the 2020 and 2021 season the International Freight Assistance Mechanism managed to partially offset some of the drop in airfreight to the MENA region despite air passenger numbers collapsing.