THE Darling Downs is set to cash in on the Asian food boom, with trade missions planned to explore new opportunities in more international markets.
Riding on a $350 million wave of overseas investor confidence, Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise will next month lead a small horticulture-driven trade delegation to Thailand with a view to diversifying overseas export relations.
It follows regional producers on the landmark AccessChina delegation indicating more than $350m in direct investments were secured since the October mission.
But with that country's economy steadying and in the face of fierce competition from India and Brazil, TSBE executive chairman Shane Charles said it made sense to explore new market options.
"I think it is dangerous for us if we put all our eggs in the China market basket," he said.
"We're really excited to be working with the Thai Government, in particular the consulate general in Brisbane, and will be taking a small delegation to look at food processing and infrastructure projects."
The nation's agriculture sector is tipped to create a $60 billion industry in 2017 and with the alignment of road, rail and air freight routes, Mr Charles said the Darling Downs was primed to capitalise on that growth.
However key meat processing and packaging plants such as those planned for the Wellcamp industrial area needed to come online to ensure the region could meet export demands.
"We need more investment in food production and packaging and investigate how we might facilitate that," Mr Charles said.
The global beef market in particular is predicted to continue to grow this year, led by strong growth out of Brazil, Argentina and the United States, according to Rabobank's Beef Quarterly report.
While softer global prices are expected to put pressure on Australian beef prices, they will remain above the five-year average, report co-author Angus Gidley-Baird says.
Mr Gidley-Baird said Australian beef export into China had dropped by 36 per cent between January to October last year.
He said South Korean beef imports had bucked the wider south-east Asian trend with a 4% increase and the country would "remain a key market for Australian product".
"China is expected to continue to absorb a large proportion of rising global supplies with their import program set to increase in 2017," Mr Gidley-Baird said.
"South-east Asia remains a shining light for global beef trade with demand increasing rapidly.
"That said, consumers in South-east Asia remain price sensitive and much of their demand will continue to be fulfilled by domestic cattle, live imports and imported bovine from India."
Mr Charles conceded the Darling Downs' exports could not compete with India or Brazil, but the region's reputation for premium produce had secured it a position in the Chinese middle-class market which was prepared to pay higher prices.
"I think that with any import market, if there is a premium product there is a better price for it," he said.
"And we have that high-end, clean, green produce."
TSBE, in the coming 12 months, will also explore opportunities in line with the existing Free Trade Agreement with South Korea.
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