FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig has opened the 2013 ABARES conference in Canberra by outlining the Labor government’s platform for the industry’s future prosperity and development.
Minister Ludwig’s speech to about 400 key industry delegates focused on three key pillars for Australian producers to capture export opportunities into growing Asian markets.
The first is the Asian Century White Paper, which has a vision to make Australia a food bowl for Asia.
The second key pillar is a food innovation precinct, announced by the Prime Minister and Innovation Minister two weeks ago as part of a $1 billion plan to create more Australian jobs.
The food precinct aims to strengthen links between industry, producers, manufacturers and researchers to build industry capacity and improve competitiveness.
The government’s third pillar for the industry’s future is introducing Australia’s first National Food Plan.
“This is an initiative I am particularly excited about and one that will set our wider food sector up for the future,” Minister Ludwig said.
“The Food Plan will consider all food related policies and programs and will identify new long-term opportunities for the Australian food sector.
“Meeting challenges like climate change, population growth, diet-related health issues, economic conditions and competition for resources takes dedication and co-operation."
Minister Ludwig said many of the government’s industry priorities were reflected in the seven key themes identified in the National Farmers’ Federation’s Blueprint for Australian agriculture, released last month, including trade and market access, R&D and transformational issues.
In opening his third ABARES outlook conference, the Minister also highlighted the government’s work for primary producers, farming communities and primary industries, including implementing drought reforms.
He also highlighted the government’s action on climate change, through the $1.7 billion Land Sector Package and the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI), in the carbon trading scheme.
Funding has also been made available to industry through the $200 million Clean Technologies Food and Foundries Investment Program, to invest in energy-efficient equipment and low-emissions technologies, processes and products.
More than 90 food processing business have shared in over $48 million to help reduce their energy use and implement cleaner technologies, thereby reducing their power bills, he said.
Minister Ludwig said the government was also assisting primary producers hit by recent floods, cyclones and fires, committing $7 billion in 2010-11 floods and this summer “again stood shoulder to shoulder with communities impacted by floods and fires”.
He said the government had also reaffirmed its commitment to rural R&D by continuing to match contributions and unveiling a new rural R&D policy statement, which includes strategies to increase private investment in R&D and increase extension uptake.
Other government work supporting primary industries includes: fully deregulating Australia’s wheat export industry; modernising the nation’s biosecurity system; reforms to Australia’s export certification processes to reduce red tape; introducing a Foreign Investment Register; finalising Free Trade Agreements to improve market access; significant reforms to the live export trade to in partnership with industry to improve animal welfare; modernising the regulation of AgVet chemicals by introducing legislative reforms; and pursuing food labelling reforms.
“The current state of our food sector speaks volumes about the opportunities that are upon us,” he said.
“Our farms produced $42.6 billion worth of food at the farm gate in 2011-12.
“We exported $30.5 billion worth of food in 2011-12, 11.5 per cent of Australia’s total merchandise trade.
“This is our highest export result since 2001-02.
“Australia had a food surplus in 2011-12 - the difference between exports and imports - of $19.2 billion, ranking us in the top ten countries in the world.
“Our food processing sector is the largest manufacturing industry in Australia and the food supply chain in Australia, from farms through to food service, provides employment for around 15 per cent of Australia’s workforce.
“With over 50 per cent of food exports going to Asia in 2011-12, we already have a strong trade focus on our closest neighbours.
“I look forward to working with the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors to continue to deliver on Labor’s plan for a strong future for our primary industries.”