Josh Frydenberg warns of ‘significant impact’ of coronavirus on economy


On Wednesday, both the ANZ and AMP Capital warned the combined impact of the coronavirus outbreak and the bushfires could see the economy record a negative quarter of growth through the first three months of this year.

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The last time Australia registered a negative quarter was in March 2011 when ports across Queensland and Western Australia were shut down due to cyclone activity.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe revealed on Wednesday he expects the bushfires to cut GDP across the December and March quarters by 0.2 percentage points while the drought is likely to reduce growth by a quarter percentage point through 2020.

He said it was too early to determine the full economic impact of the coronavirus.

Dr Lowe faces the House of Representatives economics committee on Friday where he is likely to be questioned about both the virus and bushfire impacts.

But the deadly disease is already hitting exports hard, in particular the seafood industry.

Some business owners say they have lost around 95 per cent of their business as China stops buying live seafood like fish, crab and lobster.

The seafood industry is also concerned about how the coronavirus will affect it.Credit:Luis Ascui

Sonia Einersen, from Torres Strait Seafood, said she has had to lay off staff and fears her business  could be forced to close its doors.

“We’re trying to do what we can, we can’t sell any of the live product at all in any capacity at the minute,” she said.

“We should be enjoying a good boost to the economy with the Chinese New Year and tourists coming through; that hasn’t happened.”

Ms Einersen says fishing has ground to a halt in the usually bustling waters off tropical North Queensland.

She said supplies aren’t able to be shifted to metropolitan seafood markets and prices are plummeting.

Mud crabs, which normally fetch a price of around $60 a kilogram at the Sydney Fish Markets have slumped to $11 a kilogram making it unviable for fishermen, and operators.

“You can’t afford to work at those levels. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see. The flow on from that is immense – you have bait suppliers fuel suppliers, marinas and families being affected. It’s hard to calculate the cost of where it will end,” Ms Einersen said.

In recent days the Geraldton Fishermen’s Cooperative, Australia’s largest lobster exporter has also urged fishermen to stop.

Late last month sales of live export seafood to China were cancelled and the peak body says concerns were relayed to the federal government.

“The loss of orders is impacting many within the Australia’s seafood industry, from fishers to exporters and the freight companies who rely on the Chinese export market to maintain their businesses,” the chief executive officer of the Seafood Industry Australia, Jane Lovell, said.

“It remains unclear when trade will return to normal,” Ms Lovell said.

Ms Einersen described the reaction of the Chinese government as “totally warranted, but the on flow of that has devastated all of the industries that rely on the Chinese market”.

The business operator has urged banks to put a halt on loan repayments to help businesses and  called on the federal government to consider a financial assistance package.

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