In Australian vernacular, other countries are “having a lend of us” while we continue to have an open door policy to imports. The latest story comes from a Kiwi Fruit farmer in Queensland who has been growing his fruit for 35 years, has a major financial investment in his systems and crop, and is now competing in the markets against fresh product from New Zealand, USA, France and Italy. These are coming in the same growing season as our own.
The Australian farmer is receiving less per box than it costs him to grow and the imported products are selling at $65 a box, five times his production costs here. In addition the imported fruit is only 60g, too small to be acceptable from an Australian farmer. These imports are being sent half way around the world and taking shelf space in our stores instead of our own produce. In addition, despite our labelling laws on fresh produce they are not necessarily showing country of origin on the produce at point of sale. Our gatekeepers are not keeping the gate.
How can this continue to happen and what are the consequences on our long term capacity to feed ourselves if we pretend our people are playing to the same rules as other countries, and our legislators and their advisers do nothing about it? We have been complicit in doing this to our own people.
Australian products exported into the EU have high tariffs of around 18%. It appears there are few barriers to Italy and France exporting here. For countries in trouble, dumping is rife. New Zealand managed to negotiate a deal when the EU was set up so that its products do not have the same level of tariffs as Australian produce and products. The USA subsidizes its farmers and has done so for decades, even before we signed a Free Trade Agreement in 2005 allowing easier access to our market than the USA allowed to theirs with tariffs on Australian imports for up to 20 years.
The kiwi fruit were probably dispatched when our dollar was high, meaning they were even cheaper than imports are now. In the last few weeks the A$ has lost over 10% of its value. If we do not have our own growers and processes sourcing and making here, imports will add to the inflationary pressures on the cost of living for basics food commodities. That will add dramatically to our national debt. Some will say it will benefit our exports. But what will be have to export that we still own?
Government policy for decades has been based on the false assumption that we export most of our food. This was the rationale for the ACCC and FIRB to allow the control of every major food commodity except rice to be controlled beyond the farm gate by foreign owned interests. When the research was last done in 1998 it found we only export more than 50% of our beef, grain and fibre, and consume most of our produce here. Foreign control of our exports means Australia does not get the full benefit of our exports as decisions and profits go off shore. Today we import more fresh produce than we export, from countries that do not meet the same standards and growing conditions of our farmers. Australian consumers are being duped and our Australian owned processors under costs pressures with high interest rates, carbon tax, rising energy and water costs etc.
The level of inertia and inaction by our decisions makers is costing our farmers and businesses dearly. When complaints are put to the ACCC or Productivity Commission, local companies and growers have to “prove” there is a problem and months and years go by as the market rapidly changes. New Zealand sought and gained an Amendment under the WTO to “protect” in 1995 its key industries. Australia has done nothing. Why not?
For many of our farmers and businesses talk has been too little too late as they lose shelf space and distribution in the supply chain. When an economy is out of balance it is our wealth creators, our farmers and our businesses that have no safety net. They are told to be productive and competitive with their hands tied behind their backs.
That is why informed consumers can make a difference. What price so we put on our future?
Interviews can be arranged with Lynne Wilkinson, CEO of AUSBUY on 0294375455 or 0418314923.