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Chile FTA poses horti threat

Weekly Times | September 17, 2008

Chile FTA poses horti threat

Leslie White

HORTICULTURE has been the sacrificial lamb in the Chilean Free Trade Agreement, industry leaders say.

While great for mining and coal, industry figures say the FTA - signed in May - could lead to cheap Chilean fruit decimating Australian horticulture.

They say the FTA will likely speed up applications from Chile to export cheap produce such as stone fruit, cherries, apples and avocados.

It also signals the Federal Government’s intention to allow that trade, pending quarantine assessments.

Australian growers will be exposed to direct competition with cheap Chilean produce as Chile’s seasons match Australia’s, but stand no chance of selling fruit in return, according to Summerfruits Australia president Ian McAlister and Australian Table Grape Association chief executive Jeff Scott.

Mr McAlister said allowing Chilean fruit imports could "decimate us".

"They pay $1 a day for labour, we pay $21 an hour," Mr McAlister said.

He said Chilean stone fruit could bring the dreaded Sharka disease into Australia, which could devastate orchardists.

Another grower said access for Chilean produce gave supermarkets another way to beat down prices to growers - by threatening to buy from Chile.

Farmers were without serious export alternatives to supermarkets, he added.

"To give Chile an FTA with us has the potential to ruin our industry," the grower said.

Australian Table Grape Association chief executive Jeff Scott said the "horticulture trade potential under this FTA is only one way".

"We can compete on quality, but not on price," Mr Scott said.

While Chile is yet to export table grapes to Australia - local quarantine laws require Chile spray methyl bromide on fruit, which could see it deteriorate quickly - it does have market access

National Cherry Association secretary Trevor Ranford said there was "no value" for Australian horticulture in the FTA, but said Chile would still face normal processes in its export applications.

A spokesman for Trade Minister Simon Crean said Australia was a supporter of "global trade reform and trade liberalisation".

The FTA was "unlikely to impact greatly on horticultural trade", he said, partly because Chile had other export markets.

"Australia’s tariffs on horticultural products are already very low, zero in most cases," the spokesman said.

In other news, Mr Scott said he was "disappointed" Korea and Japan would work on only one Australian market access application at a time, despite the fact Australia is currently working on two Korean applications.

 source: Weekly Times