China is Australia’s biggest export and import partner but there has been a slowdown in trade across the world during the crisis.
Australian exports of rural goods fell 7 per cent and non-rural goods declined 2 per cent in February, with the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data showing particular weakness in the cereal grains and meat sectors. Minerals and energy are Australia’s biggest export industry followed by agricultural products.
“These are tough times for many trade-exposed businesses who have been some of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis,” Senator Birmingham said. “Rising export costs, disruptions to supply chains and loss of markets are some of the factors that are making it difficult for exporters to access vital commercial finance.”
He said the scheme would help exporters re-establish markets or use the capital support to buy new equipment to expand.
Ms Tipping said Australia had spent a lot of money building its exports over the years and the scheme would “allow us to repair without starting from scratch all over again”.
“The fact we can do this in Australia – provide some funding to enable exporters to keep going – means we can perhaps be the first ones back into the China marketplace. A lot of other countries don’t have the ability to do that at the moment,” she said.
“We’ve got everything going for us to get back into the Asian market,” she said, adding the majority of small exporters would consider the voluntary package to help with margins that were under pressure due to higher costs and cancelled contracts.
The government last month agreed to fund emergency freight flights of agricultural products to China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates before the stock went to waste.
Exporters are also able to access government support available to other businesses, including a $40 billion scheme for small and medium enterprises under which the government will guarantee 50 per cent of new loans up to $250,000 issued by eligible banks.
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Jennifer Duke is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.