Address to AustCham Food and Agribusiness working group, Beijing China

  • Auscham breakfast

TRANSCRIPT OF SENATOR RICHARD COLBECK ADDRESS TO AUSTCHAM FOOD AND AGRIBUSINESS WORKING GROUP, BEIJING CHINA

23 April, 2015

E&OE.......................................................................................................

Thank you Tom and good morning everyone, it is indeed a real pleasure to be here with you all this morning.

We are gathered here at a very important and exciting time between our two countries with the recent signing by our respective governments of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement. Although that free trade agreement is very broad and all-encompassing and will have a significant and positive effect on the relationship between our two countries, in my home country it is largely been judged by the success and the strength of the relationship through the agriculture sector.

The opportunities that exist for our two countries in agricultural trade I think are significant, although I don't believe that we yet fully understand the full extent to which we will be able to work together for the benefit of both countries.

We obviously have long standing relationships in a number of fields, particularly in agriculture and agricultural trade with a significant growth in certain commodities over recent years and that is only going to expand with the free trade agreement coming into force.

We have long standing relationships in beef and grain and they continue to grow and there is obviously a burgeoning relationship particularly in dairy and opportunities in other agricultural sectors.

We also need to recognise that through trade is now a much larger part of the world economy and if you consider that in 1990 about 20 per cent of global trade was traded through the country where it was traded to and now that number is closer to 70 per cent being through traded rather than just 20 per cent as it was previously. It shows a significant change in the way global trade operates, and so food and food processing is going to obviously going to work through that process as well. We see that in this country in particular with the recent growth in the barley trade which is used for beer production.

We need to do considerable work though on understanding the challenges in respect of agriculture and how each other's agricultural sectors operate. In my country the concern manifests on the context of the vast scale of the Chinese economy. I understand that here in China the concern is that Australian produce might flood the Chinese market and therefore have a negative impact on the agriculture sector here in China.

We need to respect the concerns the each of our nations and our communities have and work to overcome those and in the context of Australia's capacity to supply international markets with agricultural produce, the numbers indicate that we are not a country that will flood any region with food product. Although we are large exporters in some commodity products, the statistics show that if we double our agricultural produce by 2050 and that is a possibility, we will feed ourselves plus only 1.3 per cent of all of Asia.

So the opportunity for Australia is to continue to supply a very high quality safe food product for which we have a very strong reputation, into those regional Asian markets. And then work using some of our technologies to assist the growth and the productivity growth of agriculture in the region.

There is also considerable work to be done and conversations to be had around development of supply chains so that our farmers can get maximum value for their product and consumers here can get a high quality product and understand exactly where it comes from at a good value. We will also see new methods of trade including online trading and that will change the way that we approach our food procurement and also impact on that value proposition.

Of course finalising the free trade agreement in agriculture is one thing, but there also remains considerable work to be done in other areas around both our countries biosecurity requirements. Both our countries, quite properly, have strong measures to protect the biosecurity of our agricultural industries and our biodiversity in our countries and we should work together in a scientific manner to ensure that trade can continue with as little impediment as possible while maintaining those important protections.

And of course because the growth of agriculture in both our countries is going to require considerable amounts of capital and investment, we need to ensure that our investment rules do not hinder unnecessarily the free flow of capital to facilitate the growth of that productivity. In a policy sense in Australia right now we are working on a number of very important pieces of policy work. The government is currently considering a white paper on agricultural policy which will look to the next 20 years or so of agricultural policy in our country and obviously looks to facilitate the growth of that sector.

Alongside that we are also preparing a Northern Australia Development Whitepaper which looks at opening up areas of Northern Australia that haven't yet been used for agriculture to see what the opportunities might be to expand agriculture into those regions. We acknowledge your interest in both of those processes and the submission that your chamber has made to both of those processes, expressing the interest from AUSCHAM.

At the same time we are also introducing new biosecurity legislation which updates our previous legislation that dates back to 1907 I think, so that we have a very modern and well-functioning biosecurity system in our country.

So that you can hear what you want to hear, rather than what I want to tell you, I might stop there and invite questions from the floor so that we can have an exchange of thoughts and idea.

(Applause - followed by Q&A with audience)

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