EUROPEAN Union free trade agreement negotiators should appreciate the significant investments Australian farmers already make in EU-sourced equipment, chemicals and animal health products, major sheep meat processor Roger Fletcher said yesterday.
Mr Fletcher was opening the Hamilton Sheepvention Rural Expo in the south-west Victorian town when he responded to the difficulty Australian FTA negotiators have had in finalizing a deal with the EU.
Last month it was reported that Australia had failed to finalise a deal with the EU, with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese warning Australia Prime Minister warning Australia will not sign an agreement if changes are not made to support farmers.
Increased access above past quota levels is being sought for Australian beef, lamb, sugar, cheese and rice, and Mr Fletcher said improved access for grain-fed beef and sheep meat were also issues at the negotiating table.
Mr Fletcher said a lot of the trucks and machinery on Australian farmers is manufactured in Europe, and this could be extended to include agri-chemicals, vaccines, insurance and even banking services – for example Rabobank — that originate from the EU.
He said many of the global shipping lines used to transport Australia rural and general manufactured products are also European-owned. The EU negotiators need help to understand the EU trade support that Australian farmers already supply.
“I think that is important to that get back to the Europeans.”
Mr Fletcher said the EU was currently only offering enough sheep meat quota to feed 4 ounces of sheep meat to the population of the EU bloc, with frozen and fresh product quotas.
“Beef has other problems; they don’t want feedlot beef – all the stumbling blocks you could get.”
Australian grain-fed lamb is also an issue due to the fact that lambs were ‘contained’, Mr Fletcher said.
“We import more foodstuffs into Australia than we export,” he said.
“One hundred thousand tonne of pork a year. The whole thing is lop-sided,” Mr Fletcher said.
He said the last trade deal was done with the EU 48 years ago.
“Over my dead body – we’re not going to chuck it in ….”
When asked which markets Australia had signed free trade agreement with, excited him the most for marketing Australian lamb, Mr Fletcher said.
“You can never say one market is going to do it.
“We (Fletcher International Exports) are in about 90 countries around the world,” he said.
Mr Fletcher said Australia produced the best beef and sheepmeat in the world, but the industry’s biggest challenges lay with costs outside the farmgate. These costs such as energy, transport costs and tariffss are “killing us”, he said.
He said Australian exporters should not be held to ransom at the country’s ports.
“That is really cruelling the farmers.”
Mr Fletcher said the most important thing for meat processors now was labour and he encouraged the Federal Government to continue incentives for overseas backpackers to work in Australia.
Mr Fletcher said the improvement in the quality of Australian lamb had been phenomenal in recent years and it was a team effort, from the farmer to the end consumer.
“I’m proud it’s my name on the box and I live it.”