Time for reflection, review and relationships in wool industry

Wool growers call for industry to take a breathe and work on customer relationships

Calm in wool export waters called for as growers encourage relationship-building with China.

Calm in wool export waters called for as growers encourage relationship-building with China.


Wool growers concerned about relationships with China and call for calm in the sector.


Australia's reliance on China for manufacturing and sales hit national headlines again this month.

There have been emotive claims about this dependence in and outside industry.

Growers have told me how important it is for us take a deep breath and consider the ramifications of some of these rash comments to ensure we do not damage vital customer relationships.

Interruptions to global supply chains - with borders shut, ports closed, processing mills sitting idle and workers confined to their homes - have forced many industries to review export logistics and risk management strategies.

In our sector, China buys about 75 per cent of our nation's woolclip, compared to about four per cent in 1990.

We are not alone in our dependence on this market.

Other wool producing countries, such as South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina, also heavily rely on China to purchase and process their wool.

In the past 50 years, Australian woolgrowers have cemented a reputation as highly-reliable producers of quality wool, and built partnerships on mutual trust and respect with a large number of Chinese mill owners.

Trade delegations of Australian wool growers have visited Chinese manufacturing-focused provinces, gaining an in-depth understanding of the level of investment and technology committed to processing our wool.

During the launch of Roberts Ltd's Natural Tasmanian Wool brand in Shanghai in December 2019, it was repeatedly articulated how important the relationship is between the Chinese wool processing sector and Australian wool growers.

Australian, and in particular Tasmanian, wool is highly regarded for its high-performance characteristics - from the processors to the retailers to the consumers.

In the past five decades, the portion of 19-micron and finer wool purchased by China has grown from three per cent to 47 per cent of all Australian wool exports.

Woolmark's website says "China and Australia are innovating towards a shared future in Australian Merino wool by developing new wool textiles and manufacturing techniques on a breathtaking scale that offers unlimited potential".

Our growers say, while they understand that putting all our eggs in one basket and relying so heavily on a single market is a risk, there should be recognition of the strong relationship built and honoured by the Chinese and Australian wool sectors for decades.

Now is a time for quiet review, detailed assessment and relationship building with our key customers.

It is also a time for collaboration, as mills come back online and desperately need the retail sector to turn to wool.

We can either wallow in the ongoing disappointment of the depressed Australian wool market, or focus on what we can do as an industry to best position Australian wool for long-term success.

Let's rally, remain positive and grow our strategic partnerships with our key overseas market partners.


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