The Australian Government will re-launch hundreds of flights to deliver fresh produce to key international markets as part of a $170 million boost to an export sector grounded by the coronavirus emergency. Officials stated the money will go to subsidise air freight for exports of agricultural products after flights were severely disrupted.
Return flights, under the program, will provide an opportunity for Australia to import medical equipment and medicines.
Today's announcement by Trade Minister Simon Birmingham also waives $10 million in Commonwealth fishery fees and adds almost $50 million to the Government's existing export grants program to reimburse marketing costs to exporters.
The exports lifeline follows months of uncertainty for the seafood sector, hit hard when markets in China collapsed early in the COVID-19 crisis. Since new regulations on air travel were introduced to curb the spread of the pandemic, exporters, fishers and farmers have struggled to maintain access to high-value overseas markets.
The Government has appointed former Toll Holdings managing director and former Linfox chief executive Michael Byrne as its international freight coordinator to oversee the program, working with airlines and exporters.
To kickstart sales, Canberra said it will subsidise 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," Minister Birmingham said in an emailed statement.
According to abc.net.au, 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.