Slim pickings in Asia

29 Nov, 2012 03:00 AM

THE rich pickings anticipated by the federal government's much-discussed "Asian century" food boom simply aren't adding up say frustrated fruit and vegetable producers and exporters.

And Canberra itself is a big part of the problem, they say.

While imports of US, South American and even European fresh horticulture products are making big inroads in our nearby Asian markets Australia's top level export protocols and market access negotiations are being out-manoeuvred by trade competitors and overseas import restrictions.

''Australia commenced negotiations 14 years ago to get our mainland cherries shipped into China and it seems we're hardly any closer," said major NSW-based exporter Andrew Gartrell.

In fact, he said not only was China now sending increasing volumes of its own fresh product into Australia, Chinese exporters were selling their fruit in Asia blatantly branded as "Australian" to capture a premium price.

Meanwhile, the very same post-harvest treatment standards which allowed Chinese fresh fruit and vegetables to sell here were, strangely, considered too lenient to meet China's import protocol for Australian products going the other way.

"The Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and Biosecurity Australia (BA) refuse to use this gross hypocrisy as any type of leverage in their negotiations," said Mr Gartrell, the managing director of Great Southern Fresh Produce.

"We seem to lack any sort of urgency and skills in government to government trade negotiations.''

He said market access to Asia wasn't growing for cherry exporters - it had actually shrunk in the past 20 years.

His Orange-based company is mainland Australia's biggest cherry exporter sending product sourced from across Central West NSW to Asia and the Middle East.

Mr Gartrell said if Australia's horticulture export volumes were to grow in Asia big improvements were badly needed to make poorly constructed protocols less bureaucratic and more responsive to local producer needs and the aggressive trade strategies of our competitors.

Mr Gartrell's observations are shared by the Summerfruit Australia chief executive officer John Moore who said arrangements struck by government negotiators to advance Australian exports were invariably "not very commercial".

"In the current environment I think we're likely to see exports of fruit and vegetables declining, not rising," he said

Growers were astounded that some export nations could slip into Asian markets, or even Australia, far more easily than Australian fruit exports could find markets in the region.

"Other countries seem to be able to negotiate easier protocols than we can get - their supporting science seems to be accepted, but not ours," Mr Moore said.

"Maybe there are other government to government deals involved."

He said not only was Australia closer to Asian markets (typically 14 days by sea compared to 20 days from the US or 30 from South America) our product quality was often much better.

"People in Asia often say they much prefer Australian fruit to something they buy from Chile, but our high dollar and the whole export system means our cost of getting it into that market might be quite considerable," he said.

Mr Moore's grower-funded peak industry body represents the peach, apricot, nectarine and plum industries.

"Cherry growers are in an awful position, but other fruit exports have similar protocol challenges and costs - and there's precious little margin at the farmgate in exporting in the first place."

He said it was absurd that export protocols agreed to in some markets included having farmers pay for overseas inspectors to be here duplicating local inspection services before shipments left the country.

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30/11/2012 9:39:06 AM

This combination of incompetence and public servants meddling in commercial matters has bee going on for years. The grower exporters need to get this unnecessary impediment removed and get on with the job themselves.This counterfeit branding is not new either but do you see the Australian government employees in these countries doing anything to stop it?? Maybee their time would be better spent helping our exporters with beuracratic hurdles than helping our competetors send produce here.
John Niven
30/11/2012 10:24:42 AM

Food bowl for Asia ?? With high dollar this propaganda is disgraceful. Take a look at reality, asian producers are able to freight produce at considerable cost and still sell cheaper than local production. SHAME Julia/Wayne SHAME
30/11/2012 4:01:07 PM

No surprises here, I support FTA's, trouble is it never seems to be a level playing field for Australian exporters. It doesn't help that we have a federal government that seems intent on whittling away at the destruction of Australian farmers and fishers. You would think that farmers should be an important and valued part of Australia, as they are mostly overseas, but governments and Engo's are hell bent on our demise. It just makes no sense.
30/11/2012 9:44:02 PM

you are right Geoff, unfotunately our government is more of hinder than help with hort exports. Time to change strategies
5/12/2012 11:13:02 AM

Until we can compete in the market, things will continue to shrink. We need to lower our cost of production, and only govt, mainly federal has the power to do that.
Bushie Bill
6/12/2012 2:00:31 PM

Why, Dunart? Why is it up to the government? Why isn't it your responsibility to lower your costs? You are the master of your own destiny, aren't you? Who gets the benefits of your success? You do. Will you only think and work if success is guaranteed? Australian agriculture is doomed whilst ever the attitude you espouse is predominant. Sadly, it is the entrenched attitude of a fearful RARA society that you can survive only with official patronage (i.e. political favouritism), and unfortunately, you will never prosper with such a dependency-driven mindset


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Well done to Sanger Australia and also to MLA and Minister of Trade.
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Denialist agenda, really Nico, what is my denialist agenda ? The only one with an agenda is
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Why not use the June 30th deadline to wind up the GRDC?? This is a serious proposition because