A NEW $110m initiative will back Australia’s agricultural and fisheries sector by helping them export their produce into key overseas markets, with return flights bringing back vital medical supplies, medicines and equipment.

In addition, around $10m in Australian Fisheries Management Authority levies will also be waived for all Commonwealth fishers, ensuring they do not have to pay Commonwealth levies for the remainder of 2020.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the International Freight Assistance Mechanism would help secure freight flights into Australia’s key export markets.

“This will help restore key freight routes for our farmers until commercial capacity can be restored again,” Mr McCormack said.

“We are doing everything possible to help our high-value agricultural and fisheries exporters get their produce on airplanes and into overseas markets.

“Everything we are doing as a government in response to this pandemic is focused on saving lives and saving livelihoods and we know our agriculture industry is key to this.”

The International Freight Assistance Mechanism will initially focus on the key markets of China, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and the UAE, with four key departure hubs: Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.

It will be overseen by Michael Byrne who has been appointed as the international freight coordinator general. He has significant international logistics experience as managing director of Australia’s two largest logistics companies Toll Holdings and Linfox plus as a non-executive director of Australia Post.

Mr Byrne will work with Austrade to help establish arrangements with exporters, airlines, freight forwarders and industry bodies plus oversee the mechanism’s operations including advising the government of destinations, freight selection and prioritisation.

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Federal trade minister Simon Birmingham said the COVID-19 pandemic had led to major air freight shortages and had disrupted supply chains around the world.

“This temporary action will help Australian producers to protect the jobs of those who rely upon Australia’s export of safe, quality food into the world,” Mr Birmingham said.

“Getting our export sector back on its feet is crucial to reduce job losses through the crisis and a critical part of the ultimate economic recovery.

“By getting flights off the ground, full of Australian produce, we’re supporting our farmers and fishers who have been hit hard by this crisis.”

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