Queensland Country Life - 12 September 2019
EU deal is dead if bad for ag
By Mike Foley
Agriculture will gain ground from a free trade agreement with the European Union or the deal is off, says Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.
Mr Birmingham’s commitment will be welcome news for the rural sector, where there are concerns agriculture would be made a sacrificial lamb to placate the EU in negotiations over a free trade agreement.
The EU is notoriously sensitive about maintaining its already significant market protections for farmers. It has already warned Australia that it’s not keen on opening market access to our beef, sheepmeat, rice, sugar or dairy.
But Mr Birmingham said there are tangible market access opportunities on offer to the farm sector, which must make ground or the FTA won’t go ahead.
"I would reassure rural and regional communities that not only will there be no deal if it’s not good for Australia’s interests overall - there won’t be a deal unless it gets clear wins for Australian regional communities and agricultural industries overall," he said.
Mr Birmingham said there was room for improvement in the current trade relationship. New Zealand now has 10 times the volume of Australia’s sheepmeat exports and the EU has started to wind down Australia’s quota for high quality beef exports.
"There are some real upsides we can fight for in Australian ag. Look at Australia’s current access in the EU and it’s a bit of a dud deal in many cases," Mr Birmingham said.
National Farmers’ Federation trade manager Pru Gordon said to date agriculture had been a "lone voice" warning of the potential negative outcomes flagged in the EU draft text for the FTA.
"We don’t want to be pushed aside for a deal that locks in negative outcomes for what is currently a good trade relationship," Ms Gordon said.
The EU requested Australia recognise all its member countries as a single biosecurity zone, with consistent regulations for imports and screenings.
"We’re asking leaders to hold firm, to ensure the FTA delivers exceptional market access for agricultural products, and to ensure that it doesn’t make farmers change their production processes, or undermine the biosecurity system in Australia," Ms Gordon said.
"We know there are different processes across the EU countries where some don’t comply with Australian standards, and we don’t want a blanket acceptance of EU produce. We want to maintain our ability to assess EU countries individually," Ms Gordon said.
Livestock industries have warned government they’re opposed to the EU’s initial terms, which includes Australia adopting a shared animal welfare standard, sharing the EU’s rules on antimicrobial resistance, and recognising animals as sentient beings - a clause which is now in place in the Canada and Japan FTAs with the EU.
Last year the EU released its list of protected names for 172 foods and 236 spirits (also known as geographical indicators) which, if adopted, would ban their use within Australia under an FTA.
The most controversial requests are for dairy products.
The EU wants to ban calling Australian produced cheeses Feta, Gruyere, Gorgonzola, or Taleggio.
Australian Dairy Farmers chief executive David Inall said an FTA with the EU would not be in the interests of his industry, which is already grappling with sustained drought and skyrocketing feed and water costs as well as long-term retail price pressures.