Working to allay fears among Chinese farmers that Australian agricultural exports could swamp their market and put them out of business emerged as an important issue during the recent trade tour of China, ag minister Barnaby Joyce told a conference in Toowoomba this morning.
Mr Joyce recently returned from a five day tour of China with more than 40 senior Australian agricultural industry leaders.
This morning, in his first ever presentation to a major conference via Skype, Mr Joyce appeared before a video camera from Canberra where Parliament is sitting this week to share some of his findings from the tour with the inaugural Ag in the Asian Century Conference in Toowoomba.
The two-day conference was organised by the Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise (TSBE). Speakers today included Queensland agriculture minister John McVeigh, NFF president Brent Finlay and leading meat exporter Richard Rains (full conference program here).
Both Mr Joyce and Mr Finlay noted that Chinese agricultural leaders and representatives had expressed fears during the tour that increasing Australian imports could overhwlem the Chinese market and put their farmers out of business.
However both leaders said their key message was to assure their Chinese counterparts that Australian production was focused at the premium end of the production spectrum, and was simply not big enough in scale to pose a threat to Chinese farmers.
“We produce enough product to feed about 60 million people,” Mr Joyce said.
“We could double production and we would still not be swamping anyone with food.
“We are producing a premium product for premium markets for a premium price.”
NFF president Brent Finlay concurred, saying the delegation was very keen to put such fears to rest and to assure Chinese farmers that Australia was not about to swamp China with product.
He added that China’s pre-occupation with food safety and high regard for Australian product provides a platform for far greater value adding of agricultural product in Australia before export to China.
“Everywhere around the country we went they wanted to buy Australian product, because they saw the Australian product as setting the highest standard in food safety,” Mr Finlay said.
“One thing that both that Minister McVeigh and Minister Joyce mentioned this morning was the ability to value add in this country.
“There is a lot of talk about having product which is packaged in Australia, there are concerns about the integrity of food supply chains in China, so for product that is manufactured and packaged in Australia for the Chinese market, there is a huge opportunity.”
Green Paper due for release next week
Minister Joyce said plans to develop the Green Paper to the White Paper for Agricultural Competitiveness were progressing well, with a document expected to be finalised and released next week.
The White Paper consultation process has attracted high levels of participation.
In fact, with more than 700 submissions received, it was in fact the most responded to White Paper in the history of the Australian Parliament.
Mr Joyce said agriculture will be of increasing importance to the Australian economy as mining industry comes off the boil, and the challenge for Government was to increase agricultural production by doing what it can to facilitate better returns at the farmgate.
“How do we increase agricultural production? Quite simply by getting a better return on the land,” he said by video to the 200 or so delegates gathered in Toowoomba’s historic empire theatre this morning.
“When people say there is no money in agriculture, there is, there is immense wealth in agriculture, it is just that the people who get it have changed over the last century.
“We have to ask serious questions to ensure the people who do the overwhelming amount of the work get a fairer return for the efforts they put into that program.”
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