Australia’s peak farming body says a new Asian region trade agreement announced this week will position Australian agriculture well to capitalise on major growth opportunities in the region.
It comes as the Federal Opposition slams the Gillard Government for allowing Free Trade Agreement negotiations with South Korea to stall while competitors secure a significant trade advantage.
The National Farmers’ Federation yesterday welcomed the Australian Government’s announcement that it will engage in negotiations to develop a new Asian region trade agreement.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, launched yesterday at an ASEAN meeting in Cambodia, will bring together the ten ASEAN countries along with Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand to form a formal trade partnership.
The 16 countries collectively account for almost half the world’s population and generate about 30 percent of global GDP.
The Asian region is already a major export market for Australia, with 64 percent of all agricultural exports going to China, Japan, the ASEAN countries and other parts of Asia.
NFF president Jock Laurie said the challenge now was for Australia to push th trade agreement along to ensure real and tangible outcomes.
“With the population of this region expected to boom, there is an enormous opportunity for Australian agriculture in Asia – as recognised by the Government in the Asian Century White Paper, and by the Prime Minister herself in her address to the NFF 2012 National Congress just last month,” Mr Laurie said.
Mr Laurie said the announcement was another step towards improving, and securing, international market access for Australian agricultural goods.
“Following the signing of the Malaysia-Australia free trade agreement in May, our attention is now on ensuring agriculture remains front and centre in the agreements with South Korea, Japan, China and Indonesia,” he said.
“These are all markets with enormous growth opportunities and where significant barriers to trade in agriculture still exist, not only through tariffs that restrict trade but also through technical or so called ‘behind the border’ restrictions.
Opposition slams stalled Korean FTA progress
Opposition agriculture spokesman John Cobb yesterday accused the Federal Government of “falling at the first hurdle in the Asian Century stakes” by allowing Australia’s Free Trade Agreement talks with Korea to break down.
"With the US-Korea FTA all wrapped up, Australia signing an all-inclusive FTA with Korea is critical,” Mr Cobb said in a media release issued yesterday.
Mr Cobb said the stumbling block to negotiations had been Korea’s bid to negotiate the inclusion of the investor state dispute resolution clause, which provides a process to resolve issues when a government decision affects their business or investment.
“Under the Howard Government this was a standard part of negotiations for an FTA deal. The US-Korea FTA has it, so too do Australia’s FTAs with some countries, for example Chile. Now the Gillard government is baulking at it, seemingly because it doesn’t even trust itself to honour its commitments.
“So much for Australia stepping up to be Asia’s food bowl.”
Mr Cobb said that the longer Australia delayed in finalising an FTA deal with Korea, the harder it would be for Australian beef exports to head off the US trade push, which was out-manoeuvring the Gillard government and poised to lock Australia out of Korea.
From January 2013, under the Free Trade Agreement recently ratified between the US and Korea, beef exports from the US to Korea will have a 5.3pc tariff advantage over Australia’s beef producers.
The tariff regime on US beef will wind down each year and hit zero in 2026.