Australia to subsidize air freight

Aim it to unfreeze agri-exports shut down by virus

Australia’s government will spend A$110 million (C$95 million) to subsidize air freight for exports of agricultural products after flights were severely disrupted due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

About 90 per cent of Australian air freight is usually transported in planes carrying tourists. But with scores of countries closing their borders to stop the spread of the virus, many Australian exporters have been unable to export their products.

To kick-start sales, Canberra said it will subsidize flights to China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, markets that typically pay a premium for Australian products such as Wagyu beef, rock lobster and cherries.

“By getting flights off the ground, full of Australian produce, we’re supporting our farmers and fishers who have been hit hard by this crisis,” Australia’s Minister for Trade Simon Birmingham said in an emailed statement.

The logistics of the freight flights are still being worked out, but Birmingham said many of the planes will return to Australia carrying medical supplies.

The funding will come from Australia’s first economic stimulus package in response to the coronavirus outbreak that included A$1 billion (C$860 million) for regional communities hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.

Australia’s agriculture sector, one of the nation’s biggest exporters with shipments worth about A$35 billion (C$30 billion) a year, said the funding would be critical to keep the industry afloat.

“Being able to get back into China for us is absolutely essential. We are delighted,” said Jane Lovell, chief executive officer of the industry body, Seafood Industry Australia.

Fruit and vegetables, red meat and dairy products are among the other exports expected to benefit from the flights.

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