WHILE the federal government talked up new openings to some of its Free Trade Agreements, a major fresh produce group says the deals are taking too long.
A range of annual tariff cuts took effect on January 1 this year under free trade agreements settled by the government, improving opportunities in China, Korea and across the Pacific.
Speaking as agriculture minister at the time, Senator Bridget McKenzie said last December that the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA), which came into force in December 2015, continued to deliver for Australian agricultural and food exports, particularly for meat, dairy, wine, seafood and a range of horticultural products.
"Since ChAFTA came into force, agriculture, food, fisheries and forestry exports have increased by 60 per cent from $9.9 billion in 2014-15 to $15.9 billion in 2018-19," Mrs McKenzie said.
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She said horticulture growers had the opportunity to build on the record 2018-19 export peak of $3.4 billion with tariffs on oranges and mandarins both falling.
"These reductions follow the most successful export season Australian citrus growers and exporters have had with industry estimating that over 273,000 tonnes worth over $500 million of citrus was exported to China in the 2019 season," she said.
But Australia's sluggish negotiation progress was holding horticulture exports back, according to the Australian Fresh Produce Alliance (AFPA).
AFPA chief executive officer, Michael Rogers, said Australia's approach to negotiating market access arrangements appears to be different to competitor countries such as the USA and Chile.
"Under the new China-USA trade deal, China has agreed to finalise market access protocols for US avocados, blueberries, potatoes, and California nectarines," Mr Rogers said.
"While Chile seems to be concluding new market access negotiations with China in about two years, compared to the six years it took Australia to negotiate access for table grapes to China."
Whilst blueberries are second on the list for priority, the Australian Government relationship with China remains challenging.
Currently, Australian apples and blueberries are next in line for access to China.
The AFPA said negotiations for these products commenced in 2017 despite blueberries requesting access in 2010 and apples from mainland Australia being part of previous negotiations back as far as 2006.
Within a column in the summer edition of the Australian Berry Journal, Australian Blueberry Growers' Association president, Jonathan Shaw, described market access as a "long game".
"Whilst blueberries are second on the list for priority, the Australian Government relationship with China remains challenging," he said.
"To manage expectations though, grapes took 15 years to obtain access to China."
According to the AFPA, the Australian blueberry industry estimates the lack of access to the China market is costing the industry $44 million in export revenue annually.
The AFPA said that in 2019, China announced new market access for 12 products from 12 countries, none of which were Australian.
We know that countries like Chile are investing significantly in market access and market improvement for their fresh produce industry and most importantly have high level political commitment from their governments to securing market access for fresh produce.
The AFPA's Mr Rogers said key competitor countries are securing access to markets like China, and by the time Australian growers have access the market is crowded with competitor product.
"Australia's domestic growth is low and growers need access to more consumers," he said.
"We know that countries like Chile are investing significantly in market access and market improvement for their fresh produce industry and most importantly have high level political commitment from their governments to securing market access for fresh produce," Mr Rogers said.
"The Australian government needs to do the same if it truly intends to grow the value of Australian agriculture over the next 10 years."
In regards to the Korea/KAFTA, the tariff on mangoes has gone from 12 per cent to 9pc.
As part of the Agreement Establishing the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA), tariffs on oranges (fresh or dried) to Vietnam fell from 3pc to 0pc, while macadamias (in shell and shelled) went from 3pc to 0pc.
AFPA pointed out the shortened time frames of Australia's competitor countries in accessing other markets, including:
- Chilean pears access to China: Two years
- Peruvian blueberries access to China: One year
- New Zealand avocados access to China: Under four years