An unprecedented shortage of air cargo space, after years of booming exports to Asia, is forcing Australian producers of premium foods to potentially miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars in exports of everything from lobster to cherries.
Australia has been trying to become the ‘delicatessen of Asia’, using its favourable climate to export crates of luxury produce such as figs and edible flowers to increase stock across the increasingly-affluent region.
But finding space on planes has become difficult as exporters of delicacies increase output, with suppliers saying the crunch has been exacerbated as freight carriers are prioritizing higher-margin exports of beef and milk.
David Minnis, a veteran fruit and vegetable exporter in Melbourne, said growers of such produce were losing out on up to A$100 million ($76 million) in potential exports to Asia per year.
“Air freight is very important to us because some produce, like cherries, asparagus and peaches, can’t go by sea,” he said.
Australian fruit exports can take two days to get to supermarket shelves in China by plane, compared with around two weeks by water.
Altogether, exports of Australian rural goods – which include meat, fruits, vegetables and cotton sent by sea and air – were valued at A$42.7 billion in the 12 months to August. That accounts for about 13 percent of the nation’s total exports.