The first truckload of cattle is loaded onto the Bison Express at the Port of Townsville on 17 January.

The first-ever shipment of live cattle from northern Australia to China left Townsville last week, representing the first step in opening up the lucrative Chinese market to northern beef producers.

The shipment of 1,600 crossbred cattle is the first from northern Australia since animal health protocols were finalised alongside the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement in July 2015.

Sourced from 22 northern Australian producers, the predominantly Santa Gertrudis and Droughtmaster cattle are scheduled to arrive in China’s Zhejiang province after a 10-day voyage.

They were required to meet strict quarantine and other requirements before leaving Australia, in part because northern Australia cattle come from regions affected by the mosquito-borne bluetongue virus.

Speaking to ABC News, Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council (ALEC) industry secretary Tom Dawkins said it was an exciting day for the industry, and the result of many people’s hard work.

‘It’s a significant next step in our development of the live cattle trade to China,’ he said.

‘I think the exporter, the agencies involved in the procurement, the producers and the customers in China are to be congratulated on completing this consignment so far.’

Mr Dawkins said China was a more developed market than many other Asian nations, and was attracting strong interest from Australian beef exporters.

‘It’s unique compared to Vietnam and Indonesia because we’re dealing with purpose-built supply chains, closed-loop facilities and a higher-developed market,’ he said.

‘There’s significant confidence in the development of these supply chains, there’s confidence in the quality of Australian cattle and growth in the demand for high-quality beef.’

Commenting on the shipment, Port of Townsville acting CEO Claudia Brumme-Smith was also positive about the port’s capacity to support major growth in cattle exports from northern Australia.

‘The Port of Townsville is Australia’s second largest export port for live cattle, facilitating the movement of more than 200,000 head over the past 12 months,’ she said.

‘Our port has undergone infrastructure upgrades over the past few years to improve logistics infrastructure for cattle exporters, giving us the capacity to export up to one million head per year.

‘The development of a live cattle export supply chain from Townsville could be a real win for regional producers who can offer cattle which are suitable for the Chinese market.’

The food and agribusiness sector is identified as one of Queensland’s traditional export strengths in the Queensland Trade and Investment Strategy 2017–2022.