Aussie Rock Lobsters Claw Their Way to Chinese Markets
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Buoyant times lie ahead for the Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative thanks
to growing demand in China for rock lobsters. The Co-operative is also
seeking to diversify its rock lobster exports to a range of other
Founded in the 1950s, the Co-operative is based in Western Australia, and
has grown from a small handful of fishermen to the largest rock lobster
exporter in the world. With sales of $450 million a year, 200 members and
350 employees, it still insists on remaining as it began; a co-operative
owned by its members, who are all fishermen.
The Co-operative’s main export market is China, where rock lobster is a
prized menu item.
‘We export about 63 per cent of the Western rock lobster industry and at
any one point in time can export up to 20 to 40 per cent of the world trade
in live rock lobster,’ says CEO Matthew Rutter.
FTAs opening up Chinese markets
Prior to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA), the tariff on
Australian rock lobster exports was 15 per cent. Under ChAFTA, this tariff
has been reduced to 3 per cent and it will be eliminated entirely on 1
The ChAFTA tariff reduction set up the Geraldton Fishermen’s Co-operative to reap even
greater rewards in existing well-established markets across China.
‘Since the tariffs have dropped under ChAFTA, we’re now exporting to 12
different cities across the country, when we used to have just one
entry point into China,’
‘More and more buyers are willing to participate and we’re seeing continued
growth, even before the tariffs have fully gone down to zero. So I would
say ChAFTA is having a big impact on our business.’
ChAFTA has given the Co-operative the ability to better brand its product,
enhance control of the supply chain, and develop a better understanding of
‘Another thing the FTA has helped to do is to make it easier to clear
product at Chinese ports, that in the past were harder to get through,’
‘Now that everyone knows about the FTA and are
all incentivised to facilitate trade between China and Australia, it opens
up markets that were previously closed, if not from the tariffs then red
tape and bureaucracy.’
While 97 per cent of its exports currently go to China, the Co-operative
also sells to markets such as the US, Japan, Taiwan, and the Middle East.
The Co-operative is keen to expand these markets in order to diversify
The Co-operative is also looking for new export opportunities and is
currently analysing markets in other countries.
‘We’ve got to make sure our product remains as competitive as possible. We
can’t have tariff barriers and those sorts of things stopping us from going
into other markets.’
‘That’s why all these agreements, not just ChAFTA, but also ones like the
TPP-11 and PAFTA [Peru-Australia FTA], are also important,’ says Rutter.
Growth plus optimism equals investment
Thanks to a number of factors, including the FTA with China, sentiment
within the Co-operative and Western Australia’s rock lobster industry is
confident, as members have seen more certainty in the sustainability of
‘There’s a level of growth and investment which has been going on for a
couple of years now. The fishing industry is healthy, it’s well run and the
quotas are closely managed,’ says Rutter.
This confidence is demonstrated by recent investments, with the three
largest boats the fleet has ever seen commissioned in the past 18 months.
‘You wouldn’t see that sort of investment unless there was an air of
optimism, and the FTA is definitely a contributing factor to that,’ says
While keeping an eye on new and emerging markets, the opportunities China
presents, including its consistently high prices and size of market,
provides a bright future for Western Australia’s rock lobster industry.
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