THE exclusion of the Australian sugar industry from the Australia-China free trade agreement (FTA) has left industry stakeholders bitterly disappointed.
The agreement was confirmed yesterday, with sugar one of the industries set to continue negotiations prior to a three-year review.
Australia is the third largest raw sugar supplier in the world, with the value of production an estimated $1.7 to $2 billion.
The move is another setback in a difficult year for sugar, following the withdrawal of major players from current marketing arrangements prompting a Senate inquiry into the industry.
Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri labelled the move as an absolutely unacceptable outcome.
“Not only is this a lost opportunity for our industry, it is a lost opportunity for China’s sugar importers,” he said.
"Yes, sugar is traditionally difficult in trade negotiations, but the fact remains there was no good reason for this to occur.
"Just because the political reality is that China has not included sugar in any other FTA it has concluded, does not mean that this cannot and should not change."
QSL CEO Greg Beashel described the decision as a missed opportunity for the Australian sugar industry.
China currently imports roughly four million tonnes of raw sugar each year, a figure that was expected to increase to meet domestic consumption needs.
"Australia is well placed to capitalise on this opportunity from China, with QSL already providing high quality raw sugar to Chinese clients on time, in full and within strict import requirements,” Mr Beashel said.
“There is no good reason for raw sugar to be left out of this free trade agreement with China, especially considering the country’s increasing appetite for our product."
Tully Sugar, which is owned by Chinese agribusiness consortium COFCO, declined to comment on the announcement.
Industry stakeholders said the focus had now turned to Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations in the hope of securing new sugar market access and export opportunities.