Horse flu outbreak makes hatters mad

There’s no horsing around with some export markets, especially around springtime.

I just got back from a trip to Bangkok where I learnt something new. No it’s not what you’re thinking.


First of all, I learnt that Thailand is called the “land of smiles”, and then I actually learnt something about racehorses as well. While interviewing Paul Coffey, the general manager of TUTA Healthcare Australia, which manufactures medical equipment such as intravenous drips (including veterinary equipment for horses) in both Sydney and eastern seaboard of Thailand, I found out that “Phar Lap” is actually a Thai word meaning “lightning”.


Yes that’s right – Phar Lap, which was possibly Australia’s greatest race horse, and captured the imagination of punters in the depression years all over Australia with blistering pace and courage.


But when I arrived back in Australia, horses were the topic of the day with the equine influenza (“horse flu”) issue sweeping Australia and the closure of racing in New South Wales. It has been tragic for the horses, the industry and for all the businesses and workers whose livelihood is associated with the Spring Carnival.


After all, horses are big business in Australia. According to Geraldine Doumany, Austrade’s racing industry specialist, racing is a major export industry, not just on the track itself but also in terms of racing technology, the sale of veterinary equipment, starting gates and the like. In fact, the Victorian Racing Club (VRC), which hosts the Melbourne Cup, is a major part of Austrade’s Business Club Australia (BCA) sports networking program, and the VRC is an export award winner in its own right.


The Melbourne Cup, like the Beijing Olympics, FINA Swimming and the Rugby World Cup 2007 in France has been a major focus for big event style business working. Since the BCA’s inception at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, it has generated around $1.7 billion in exports and investment outcomes through its 8500 members (38% of whom are off shore).


BCA is working closely with the Victorian Racing Club to promote international business through the Melbourne Cup and it is already paying dividends. For example, APB Distribution, which produces Elmore Oil, will team up with New Zealand’s Oxyshot through BCA. Both are big players in the equine industry.


The BCA concept demonstrates the “power of schmooze” through big event networking, so the horse flu epidemic will be closely monitored by all concerned. After all, when it comes to equine exporting there’s no horsing around.


In addition to the direct impact of the racing industry, there are also the indirect “knock-on” effects of the shut-down of racing to consider.


For example, in the fashion stakes, many designers do very well out of the Spring Racing Carnival. There is no greater example than millinery, as the carnival is big business for hat makers all over Australia, having also developed an important export business for events like the Dubai Cup.


In fact, when I heard of the horse flu epidemic, I dug out the graph below, courtesy of Christena Singh of Sensis, which shows how the demand for millinery “spikes” every October/November and demonstrates how important the Spring Carnival is to the hatters industry.


The lucky ones, or rather the smart ones, fortunately have developed a strong client base overseas that cushions the blow of the shutdown in New South Wales. You have to take your hat off to the millinery businesses that have had the foresight to develop their export markets.


On a personal note, because of the horse flu, my three-year-old daughter Yun Shi’s pony ride got cancelled this weekend, so we are taking her ten-pin bowling instead. This just illustrates the joys of living in Randwick, like I do, even when the horses aren’t racing.





*Tim Harcourt is chief economist at Austrade and author of Beyond Our Shores. Thanks to Christena Singh, Geraldine Doumany and Sean Riley for their comments and assistance with this article.









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