BILATERAL agreements with trading partners including the United Kingdom, India and the European Union will benefit the Australian grain trade as it looks to develop and consolidate export pathways and bolster the Australian labour force.
Speaking in his welcome address at yesterday’s opening of the virtual Australian Grain Industry Conference (AGIC) 2021, it was one of the messages from Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan.
He said the Australian and UK prime ministers had agreed in May to an in-principle free-trade agreement (FTA), and the text was being worked with a signing by late October in sight, making it the fastest FTA process Australia had ever been party to.
Mr Tehan said solid progress was also being made with the EU.
“It’s a heavyweight bout, but we’re confident by the middle of next year we should be able to finalise the EU FTA with more access for Australian grains.”
He said Australian rice in particular looked to benefit from improved access to Europe.
India is a significant market for Australian pulses, a leading potential market for barley, and an occasional buyer of wheat.
Mr Tehan said preliminary negotiations around an FTA between India and Australia were already well under way.
“We’ve agreed to really speed things up when it comes to a free-trade agreement with India.
“My hope is that we can achieve some sort of agreement by the end of the year, and finalise something next year.
“Opportunities for grain in the Indian market are extensive.”
Visas to assist with labour
Mr Tehan said the Federal Government’s recently announced Australian Agriculture visa had come out of the UK-Australia FTA , and the Pacific labour scheme was also working well in helping the sector counter the impact of COVID on the workforce.
“We want to make sure there is the access to labour you need.
“Now we are working at speed for an agricultural visa to assist the sector across the board.
“We are looking at other bilateral agreements.”
Mr Tehan said holders of ag visas could, depending on how and for how long they had worked in agriculture, be able to apply for permanent residency.
“We want to continue to work with you to ensure you remain a world leader when it comes to the production of grains (and) exporting of grains.”
He said as Australia moved to COVID vaccination rates of 80 per cent of the population, travel bubbles would come into play, and this would benefit agriculture through the enabling a better flow of labour and trade-related trips.
“The one with New Zealand is the one we have in existence, but we’ll be looking at the Pacific Islands, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, the US, the UK and many more so we can begin to travel again.”
He said the proactive part of his approach came through going after new markets such as Mexico on barley, and consolidating relationships with key traditional ones throughout Asia and elsewhere.
“We can make sure our customers can come to Australia…so we can continue to trade our grain.”
Mr Tehan became Australia’s Trade Minister late last year. He said he had from the start adopted an approach to the role based on being proactive, on principles, and on patience, with the latter required for China.
“This is where the patient part comes in.
“In January I wrote to my counterpart setting out the ways that we could work together.
“I’m still waiting for a response to that letter.
“We will continue to pursue that relationship and we will continue to send that message that we want constructive engagement.”
He said Australia would take a principled approach when it felt it had been unfairly disadvantaged, with the case in point being China’s imposition of tariffs on Australian barley.
Mr Tehan said the World Trade Organization (WTO) fell under the principles for Australian trade under his leadership, and with Australia retaining the chair of the Cairns Group.
“We’ll continue to ensure that when it comes to the WTO, we’re an active player when it comes to setting those global trading rules, especially when it comes to agriculture.
“We believe that the actions that the Chinese Government has taken have impacted unfairly our barley growers, and we will continue to purse that case through the WTO.”
He said the case would probably take more than two years, but it was an important avenue for Australia to pursue.
“If we do not advocate for a rules-based system, we then find ourselves at the behest of the law of the jungle.”
The next major forum will be the Twelfth WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) starting November 30.
“In the lead-up to MC12 we continue to use the Cairns Group to target the most ambitious outcome we can at that meeting.”
He said this was despite “entrenched protectionism”, and Australia’s involvement in regional groupings like APEC, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership to push for greater liberalisation.
AGIC is hosted by Grain Trade Australia, the Australian Oilseeds Federation and Pulse Australia. The 2021 event draws together industry specialists from Australia and overseas to discuss all aspects of the grain industry beyond the farm gate over a two-day program.
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