Never has it been more important to foster good trade relationships, according to the NFF

Australia needs to work on existing and new markets

Australia has a long history of trading with China and National Farmers' Federation president Fiona Simson says, in the current environment, it is vital the government here establishes a dialogue with its Chinese counterparts.

Australia has a long history of trading with China and National Farmers' Federation president Fiona Simson says, in the current environment, it is vital the government here establishes a dialogue with its Chinese counterparts.


Peak farm body stresses the importance of building China relationships and developing new markets.


Almost every week lately, a new headline about disruption to our trade to China sends a shudder down the spines of farmers and exporters.

China is our number one export destination, accounting for 28 per cent of all agriculture exports.

A reduction in trade - or worse, being shut out of the market completely - would deal a sharp blow indeed to our sector.

In these turbulent times, it's crucial we keep a level head. We must resist the urge to react to alarmist news stories and to jump at shadows.

Last week, a worrying trend emerged of anecdotal reports, innuendo and speculation being reported as fact.

Some reporters were trotting-out a shopping list of sectors thought to be subject to disruption, without a skerrick of credible evidence.

We know the language we use right now is critical - as it is always is in any valuable diplomatic relationship.

Unfortunately, there is no denying that there are real issues having a material impact on some sectors, including wine, barley and seafood - and across the bigger trade portfolio, coal.

The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) continues to call on the Government to do all it possibly can to establish a dialogue with its Chinese counterparts.

Australian agriculture has a long history with China, developing trade relationships that stretch back many decades - in the case of barley, to the 1960s.

As would be expected with such a longstanding and significant relationship, there have been disruptions in the past. Never have they been insurmountable, and we have no reason to think they would be now.

While working to putting our relations with China on an even keel, we must simultaneously develop a strategy to widen and deepen our export opportunities in the region and further afield.

I have enough faith in our Government, and in our industry, to believe it doesn't have to be a case of one or the other.

We can - and we must - walk and chew gum at the same time.

There are indeed already efforts on foot to build on existing and long-standing markets, such as Korea and Japan, and new emerging markets, such as Vietnam.

We must improve market developments that have been in-train long before the current disruptions, such as negotiations towards free trade agreements with the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Farmers can also look forward to realising the full benefits of the freshly-minted Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

But for diversification to reach it's potential, we need a plan - a plan followed by action.

The NFF wants to work with Minister Simon Birmingham, his 2021 successor and Minister David Littleproud on putting pen-to-paper on a strategy, to carve out new markets and ultimately provide farmers and exporters an added level of certainty and choice.

Such a strategy must also look at trade 'enablers', including market access, marketing and promotion - and an improvement to export services.

When compared to the United States and New Zealand, Australia is way behind the eight ball at in-country product promotion.

We must shake off our 'Aussie humility' and talk our products up.

Our dairy, cotton, meat, grain, seafood, fruit and vegetables are - without a shadow of a doubt - world's best.

We shouldn't be shy in singing our own praises.

And the strategy must address the cost of production.

The biggest threat to our farm exports is at home.

In many instances, we're priced out of the market before our goods even leave Australia's shore - our supply chain costs are simply too high.

Farmers are the most innovative in the world, we need government and the private sector to partner with us to deploy smart digital technologies that cut costs, get our products to market faster and provide buyers and consumers with added confidence when it comes to food safety and biosecurity.

The NFF has also outlined the case for investment in a local food and fibre manufacturing renaissance.

It shouldn't be that we have zero cotton processing capability in this country - and almost the same for wool.

One of the real learnings from COVID-19 will be how dangerously reliant we are on internationally-processed goods, such as crop protection products.

Despite the headlines, we mustn't forget many industries remain uninterrupted in their trade with China.

We know that Chinese markets and consumers recognise the quality and safety of our food and fibre, and we look forward to continuing to supply them with the produce they are demanding.

It is vitally important the Australia-China relationship continues to develop in a positive way, based on mutual benefit and respect.

We also acknowledge the need to uphold the principles of a rule-based trading system.

With drought-breaking rain, a bumper crop almost in the silo and a strong red meat market, farmers have reason to feel positive.

With cool heads and a clear strategy, I know we can successfully navigate this current challenge.


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