Australia may have had the backbone to walk away from a trade deal with the European Union that was rotten for agriculture but the challenge of a supranational economic powerhouse with a green agenda driven by ideology is massive for farmers the world over.
For Australia, it is arguably the single largest global challenge in relation to trade.
This from the special representative for agriculture Su McCluskey, who has now spent two years traveling the globe gathering insights critical to farming and telling others about our sustainability credentials.
The EU is travelling at full steam with its prescriptive and regulatory-heavy trade standards that are rarely based on science, Ms McCluskey reported at the 2023 conference hosted by the Australian Meat Industry Council.
At the same time, it is repackaging its own farming subsidies with an environmental tinge that is also not backed by evidence - something Ms McCluskey calls greenwashing.
"It's no Green Deal when they are subsidising farmers to continue practices that are damaging the environment," she said.
"There is no question that ag subsidies are harming the environment."
The EU is one of Australian agriculture's biggest challenges because it is so influential when it comes to the global standards and rules being set, Ms McCluskey said.
"We spend a lot of time and effort pushing back against the things they want. Social licence to operate is what drives things in the EU," she said.
"We might accuse our governments of not listening to us but in other parts of the world the private sector does not even get a seat at the table.
"So the power of NGOs (non-government organisations) has come to the fore. They've taken over and really driven how rules are being set and that is underpinned by ideology.
"We are seeing the implications on trade and market access for ag products in a major way."
A beef cattle farmer from southern NSW, Ms McCluskey is the first in this unique role, which gives her access to meetings and people that agriculture industry representatives rarely get.
It's a government appointment but she is not a government employee so can, in her own words, "go rouge at times when it's needed."
Sometimes the insights she brings back are not savoury to producers but her message on ideology-driven green agendas, the EU and ag subsidies has hit a nerve.
"We are not a subsidised ag sector here in Australia - only NZ has less subsidies than us," she said.
"The rest of the world is different.
"What we are seeing, particularly in Europe but elsewhere now too such as the US, is that they are trying to make subsidies more environmentally based.
"It's really little more than greenwashing. They are just repackaging their subsidies and not backing them with evidence.
"It's something we need to hone in on."
Ms McCluskey says Australian agriculture's 'clean, green' reputation is eroding because we have become complacent.
"We've traded on that for a long time not thinking the world is moving," she said.
"Other countries are stepping up. Ireland, for example, is now seeking to own the claim of the world's best producers of clean green ag products and New Zealand been chasing this for some time."
"A big concern out of Europe is the prescriptive nature of what they are attempting to do - the one size fits all approach," Ms McCluskey said.
"We must argue for an outcomes based approach to provide for different pathways."
And countries like Australia must push for a widening of thinking, she believes.
"I have been surprised in Europe to hear them say they don't have a food security issue, that they have enough to feed Europe," Ms McCluskey said.
"We need to urge global thinking.
"There are a lot of places in the world where there is not enough food to feed all. It's about distribution, but also it's about nutrition - not just increasing food supply."
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