The dollar value of Australia’s organic exports dipped 4.7 per cent last year, hit by red tape on sales to China, but domestic sales were up 15.3 per cent.
There were $1.93 billion in domestic organic sales and $685 million in exports in 2018, compared to $1.68 billion in domestic sales and $717 million in exports in 2017, according to figures to be released by Australian Organic on Thursday.
David Thomas, president of the Australian China SME Association, said China had passed e-commerce regulations to register and monitor the “daigou” intermediaries who send Australian products to China.
“This, along with increasing the costs of compliance and production registrations, plus China-Australia political tensions, has had a short-term impact on Australia’s organic export numbers,” Mr Thomas said, adding he expected exports to China to pick up again soon.
While the dollar values of exports fell, overall export tonnage was up 13 per cent, with 30,155 tonnes of organic produce and products exported to 61 different countries last year.
The US was the leading destination, receiving 40 per cent of certified organic tonnage, followed by China, New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore.
Exports to mainland China were down 20 per cent in tonnage terms, but rose 60 per cent to the US.
Domestically, Australian Organic said that 65 per cent of Australian households purchased at least one organic product last year, an increase of five per cent from the year before.
In dollar terms, vegetables were the biggest-grossing organic domestic product, with $804 million in sales last year.
Beef and veal were the biggest export, at $354 million.
Bob Burke of Boston-based Natural Products Consulting said Americans perceived that Australia was a health-conscious, clean-living environment.
“The notion that Australian organic beef is mostly grass fed, without antibiotics or hormones, is of high quality and tastes great, is highly appealing,” he said.
Organic sales to New Zealand was also up with strong growth in packaged food and beverage.
Australian Organic general manager Niki Ford said that consumers were demanding convenience-based organic products.
“The trends for ready-to-eat, packaged and alternative products are unmistakeable in their presence on the retail shelf,” she said.
Ms Ford called for the domestic market to be regulated, as the export market is, as she said there had been “a raft of non-certified products in the market purporting to be organic when they’re not”.
“It’s important that Australian consumers can trust that their dollars are being spent on products that have been rigorously tested to ensure they meet the industry standards and not fooled by clever marketing or simply a brand name containing the name ‘organic’.”