Slim pickings in Asia

Slim pickings in Asia


Horticulture
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THE rich pickings anticipated by the federal government's much-discussed "Asian century" food boom simply aren't adding up say frustrated fruit and vegetable producers and exporters.

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THE rich pickings anticipated by the federal government's much-discussed "Asian century" food boom simply aren't adding up say frustrated fruit and vegetable producers and exporters.

And Canberra itself is a big part of the problem, they say.

While imports of US, South American and even European fresh horticulture products are making big inroads in our nearby Asian markets Australia's top level export protocols and market access negotiations are being out-manoeuvred by trade competitors and overseas import restrictions.

''Australia commenced negotiations 14 years ago to get our mainland cherries shipped into China and it seems we're hardly any closer," said major NSW-based exporter Andrew Gartrell.

In fact, he said not only was China now sending increasing volumes of its own fresh product into Australia, Chinese exporters were selling their fruit in Asia blatantly branded as "Australian" to capture a premium price.

Meanwhile, the very same post-harvest treatment standards which allowed Chinese fresh fruit and vegetables to sell here were, strangely, considered too lenient to meet China's import protocol for Australian products going the other way.

"The Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and Biosecurity Australia (BA) refuse to use this gross hypocrisy as any type of leverage in their negotiations," said Mr Gartrell, the managing director of Great Southern Fresh Produce.

"We seem to lack any sort of urgency and skills in government to government trade negotiations.''

He said market access to Asia wasn't growing for cherry exporters - it had actually shrunk in the past 20 years.

His Orange-based company is mainland Australia's biggest cherry exporter sending product sourced from across Central West NSW to Asia and the Middle East.

Mr Gartrell said if Australia's horticulture export volumes were to grow in Asia big improvements were badly needed to make poorly constructed protocols less bureaucratic and more responsive to local producer needs and the aggressive trade strategies of our competitors.

Mr Gartrell's observations are shared by the Summerfruit Australia chief executive officer John Moore who said arrangements struck by government negotiators to advance Australian exports were invariably "not very commercial".

"In the current environment I think we're likely to see exports of fruit and vegetables declining, not rising," he said

Growers were astounded that some export nations could slip into Asian markets, or even Australia, far more easily than Australian fruit exports could find markets in the region.

"Other countries seem to be able to negotiate easier protocols than we can get - their supporting science seems to be accepted, but not ours," Mr Moore said.

"Maybe there are other government to government deals involved."

He said not only was Australia closer to Asian markets (typically 14 days by sea compared to 20 days from the US or 30 from South America) our product quality was often much better.

"People in Asia often say they much prefer Australian fruit to something they buy from Chile, but our high dollar and the whole export system means our cost of getting it into that market might be quite considerable," he said.

Mr Moore's grower-funded peak industry body represents the peach, apricot, nectarine and plum industries.

"Cherry growers are in an awful position, but other fruit exports have similar protocol challenges and costs - and there's precious little margin at the farmgate in exporting in the first place."

He said it was absurd that export protocols agreed to in some markets included having farmers pay for overseas inspectors to be here duplicating local inspection services before shipments left the country.

The story Slim pickings in Asia first appeared on Farm Online.

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