Fair trade deal needed in EU – not just a free trade deal, says beef industry

Beef Central, 23/10/2023

AHEAD of what may be a final push for the Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement negotiations, the Australian red meat industry is adamant that the Australian Government maintains its stated objective of securing significant increases in market access for red meat.

Industry representatives will travel to Osaka next week to coincide with Trade Minister Don Farrell’s meeting with his EU counterpart, and encourage the Minister to continue the mission of ‘levelling the playing field’ for Australian beef and sheepmeat access to the EU.

With the EU holding firm on its highly restrictive quota position, Australian officials must also be resolute that there should be no deal for the sake of a deal – and importantly, no deal without addressing the red meat sector’s disproportionally low volume access.

Cattle Australia is urging federal trade minister Farrell and his trade negotiating team to level the playing field for agrifood trade between Australia and the European Union as part of the Australia-EU free trade agreement negotiations.

CA chairman David Foote said Australia currently ranked in the top ten global destinations for EU agrifoods, with trade to Australia between 2018-2022 rising 34pc to $6.2 billion a year – creating a trade surplus in favour of the EU of around $2 billion per year since FTA negotiations commenced in 2018.

“Our competitor exporters such as Canada, has negotiated duty-free access to the EU for 64,950 tonnes of beef including 14,950t of Hilton (high quality beef) quota, while New Zealand has negotiated an eight-fold increase in beef volumes, and the Southern Common Market countries of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay have negotiated 99,000t.

“We do not see it is in anyway unreasonable for the EU to willingly agree a more equitable trade and market access for our Australian beef,” Mr Foote said.

“This is an agreement that will likely stick for fifty years. Let’s ensure it’s a Fair Trade Deal, not just a Free Trade deal,” he said.

Cattle Australia has joined with other agri food commodity groups to support Minister Farrell walking away for the negotiation table if it’s a dud deal for Australian agriculture.

Govt needs to ‘stand and deliver’

Chair of the Australia-EU Red Meat Market Access Taskforce Andrew McDonald from NH Foods, said Australia’s case for seeking and securing significant trade reform was compelling.

EU/UK Red Meat Market Taskforce chair, Andrew McDonald

“The EU is one of the world’s largest meat consumers and in order to service this demand, there is an ongoing import requirement,” Mr McDonald said.

“Australia’s trading relationship with the EU is based on shared values and is heavily focussed on meeting EU customer demand for high quality red meat products. “However, our ability to service the market is severely limited due to the EU’s maintenance of outdated, inequitable and restrictive quotas and high tariffs,” he said.

“This access has been largely unaltered for nearly 50 years; but to make matters worse, it has actually been eroded while we’ve been negotiating the FTA.

“We’ve watched our competitors improve their access to the market and now we’re looking to ‘level the playing field’ – as the EU mantra consistently states.”

The current competitive disadvantage for Australian products must be addressed, Mr McDonald said.

“The trade imbalance on meat products which favours the EU must be addressed. These negotiations are the precise, and potentially only, fora to achieve these imperatives.

“Our industry is an ardent supporter of trade reform and we have worked very closely with the negotiating team and their EU counterparts to ensure our position is well known,” Mr McDonald said. “These negotiations, while challenging, must get it right. Agreeing to a sub-optimal outcome will set back any reform to our trade framework to the EU for the foreseeable future and detrimentally impact our trade resilience and diversification for decades to come.”

“Industry concurs with Minister Farrell’s recent comment that if Australia can land a deal with the EU, it will deepen and diversify our trade, expand opportunities for Australian exporters and strengthen our supply chains.

“This is a direct reflection of the red meat industry’s position. Now the Government needs to stand and deliver,” Mr McDonald said.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity for our industry to improve our market access and we’re looking to Minister Farrell and his government to maintain the resolve, even if that takes the negotiations beyond an end October timeline,” he said.

‘Meaningful’ access

The Australian Meat Industry Council called on the Australian Government to only sign up to a free trade agreement if it delivered meaningful access for Australian red meat processors and exporters without built-in barriers to trade; otherwise, it should keep negotiating.

Australian meat quota holders and exporters to the EU have invested significantly over decades to establish their trade with the EU and developed important relationships with their European customers, the Australian Meat Industry Council said in a statement.

Despite this, the restrictive conditions such as outdated, inequitable, and restrictive quotas and high tariffs mean that the volumes traded are so small that most Europeans will not get the opportunity to eat Australian meat.

“The EU FTA is Australia’s one shot to correct a uniquely unfair system faced by Australian meat exporters, and the Government must make sure that it does not agree to a deal which locks in restricted access that effectively sends us backwards and doesn’t allow for future growth,” AMIC chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said.

“Any deal must improve the tariff and quota access, while also not establishing new restrictions and barriers to trade,” he said.

“Australia’s negotiators have worked hard for years to get to this point on the promise that ‘sensitive’ products such as meat will be negotiated in good faith at the 11th hour. Now we are there, this is a once in a generation opportunity that is too important to get wrong.

“The EU look set to get almost all their asks outlined at the start of the FTA, but it’s hard to see what’s being offered to Australia in return is fair, particularly for agriculture.”

“Acceptance of a sub-par deal assists the EU in restricting its imports through a regulatory death by a thousand cuts and goes against the spirit of a ‘free’ trade agreement.”

“Our industry has been at the coal face for decades developing this market and if this deal falls short, it will put Australia’s red meat sector at a massive disadvantage for years to come.

“We don’t just want any deal; we want the best deal,” Mr Hutchinson said.















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