Australian trade minister Mark Vaile admitted today that he is not optimistic on the chances for Australia to boost meat exports to Britain and the EU, despite the disruption in local supplies caused by the foot and mouth epidemic.

Vaile’s comments came after he attended a round of meetings in Brussels and London, at which EU trade minister Pascal Lamy and British agriculture minister Nick Brown stressed that strict limits on Australian meat imports would be maintained.

Currently, Australia may export 7,000 tonnes of beef and 18,650 tonnes of sheep meat to the EU every year.

Vaile told reporters: “I don’t hold out any short-term hope of significant expansion of the current restrictions […] but in the longer term I think there are some prospects for change in that area.

“I indicated to our colleagues here and in the EU that if there were an opportunity to expand the quota that is available to Australia as far as beef or sheep meat products are concerned, we would stand ready to fulfil that,” he added.

Vaille revealed that the best opportunities for stretching Australia’s export market lie in the third world, where British and continental European meat is now being refused: “The area for possible advantage is the third country markets that had been taking product from the EU.”