Biosecurity Threats Affecting Supply Chains

The Freight and Trade Alliance (FTA), the peak industry body representing customs brokers, freight forwarders and importers says biosecurity threats and processing delays are adding costs and inflationary pressures to supply chains.

Paul Zalai, FTA Director says these biosecurity threats such as Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), Japanese encephalitis, African Swine Fever among others will have devastating impacts on Australia’s agricultural industries, environment, health, and economy.

He adds that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry use labour intensive processes with biosecurity officers physically assessing import documentation and selecting consignments on a set criterion for inspection.

“It is a broken and hopelessly outdated system unable to keep pace with increases and changing patterns of international trade – despite the best efforts of officers, the department cannot keep up and industry is paying the price,” Paul says.

“Whilst document assessment processing times fluctuate, inspections and the issuing of import permits can take weeks to complete,” he adds.

According to the FTA, this is causing significant delays for importers to gain access to cargo, adding to storage costs and generating significant container detention fees administered by and payable to foreign-owned shipping lines.

“Shipping lines don’t care why there is a delay in returning empty containers yet insist they are returned within prescribed timeframes to add to their stockpile congesting our port precincts,” Paul says.

He has raised concerns that some of the new and emerging risks may take limited biosecurity resources away from business-as-usual trade facilitation activities.

The FTA says biosecurity delays are one of many causes of container detention fees that are costing importers $500 million every year. This is on top of surcharges, terminal access charges, and record high freight rates that are rapidly escalating supply chain costs and adding to inflationary pressures.

It adds that the department is co-designing solutions with industry including examination of commercial practices to reduce the risk of introducing and spreading contaminating pests and therefore minimise the associated regulatory consequences for Australian commerce.

“These longer-term strategies have the potential to set a benchmark of global best practice in safeguarding against biosecurity risk whilst facilitating legitimate trade,” Paul says.

“Whilst applauding and supporting these initiatives, we urge the federal government to introduce immediate relief measures,” he adds.

He also says that if funds are the problem, then the government should talk to industry.

“We well and truly understand the need to protect against biosecurity risks and would be prepared to pay additional transactional fees on the proviso that this directly translates to commensurate improved and immediate trade facilitation measures.”