WA sheep farmers have hailed a breakthrough on lamb sales to India as a shot in the arm for the struggling industry.
Australian lamb will be allowed into India free of quotas based on Australia's compliance with India's food regulations under a trade deal announced yesterday.
Sheep Industry Leadership Council chairman Rob Egerton-Warburton welcomed open access to the potentially huge Indian market but warned it would take time for producers to see the benefits.
"It's a big win for WA because of our proximity to India and because we are predominantly an export industry with 80 per cent of sheep meat sent overseas," Mr Egerton-Warburton said.
"We produce excellent quality sheep meat products as well and the Asian market is very discerning."
Mr Egerton-Warburton said confidence had been sucked out of the sheep industry by cuts to live exports and huge price drops.
He said returns had fallen by up to 50 per cent with lamb prices down from $120 to $60. Farmers were also being forced to wait months for processing slots at local abattoirs.
"Sheep producers are really feeling the pain from live export being shut down to the point where it is now since the introduction of ESCAS (the Federal Government's exporter supply chain assurance system)," Mr Egerton-Warburton said.
Trade Minister Craig Emerson was in India last month for talks with his counterpart on the trade and investment relationship between the two countries.
India is Australia's fourth biggest export market and the two-way trade relationship is worth about $18 billion a year.
"I am advised that Indians are fast developing a taste for our world renowned lamb," Dr Emerson said.
Meat and Livestock Australia said several export companies were targeting the market for quality lamb among India's 170 million-strong middle class.
MLA said it was too soon to speculate about the size of shipments to India but there had been a trickle of lamb into India since late last year.
China continues to take increasing volumes of Australian lamb, with shipments for February estimated to be up 15 per cent on the same time last year to about 3600 tonnes (shipping weight).Lamb exports to China increased 39 per cent in 2012 to 29,521 tonnes.
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