Australia should lead to promote trade as food security solution

Terry Sim, October 13, 2022

Australia’s first assistant secretary, trade, market access and international division Chris Tinning, left, with JBS group safety and quality manager Mick Johnson.

AUSTRALIA has a huge opportunity to lead in fostering global food security through trade in the face of disruptive trends and events, a senior Federal Government officer told a red meat innovation showcase in Melbourne yesterday.

Chris Tinning is the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry’s first assistant secretary for trade market access and international division.

He was speaking at the Australian Meat Processor Corporation Innovation Showcase after a month overseas, involving meetings across Europe, including at the World Trade Organisation, and the recent G20 meeting in Indonesia.

“I’ve got to say it’s very refreshing to be in a room like this.”

“Because this room is full of innovation, it’s full of optimism, thinking about future trends in a way, about how we react in a positive way,” Mr Tinning said.

“The rooms I’ve been in (on overseas travels) are not like that.

“They are angst-ridden rooms and they are angst-ridden because there is a huge focus on concerns about global food security and they’re angst-ridden because of concerns about climate.”

Mr Tinning said the food security concerns relate to the four Cs – conflict, COVID, cost and climate — the impact of the Ukraine conflict, the disruptions to supply chains post-COVID, the cost of living and climate.

The global issues were resulting in some short-term reactions and trade restrictions from governments “that are not in our interests”, he said.

“So a lot of protectionist measures are being imposed in the name of food security, sometimes export bans, sometimes import bans, sometimes barriers to trade to help grow domestic food industries behind borders.”

There is also less trust in multi-lateral institutions that underpin the rules that govern trade, he said.

As a trading nation, it has been in Australia’s interests that those rules are protected, but the global standards that are so important for trade are definitely being undermined by current events, Mr Tinning said.

“I think there is a huge opportunity for Australia to play a leadership role around this.

“So we are a voice for evidence-based decision-making, we are a voice for the importance of trade to protect global food security and as a middle nation, we’re a voice for the importance of countries not being able to just bully or buy their way around the world, but get behind a global agenda that is in all our interests.

“It is more important now for the government and industry to work together on a whole of Australia approach.”

JBS group food safety and quality manager Mick Johnson said the Australian red meat sector as an export business needs to find a way to get 70pc of its product out of the country each year.

“Crucial to that is the industries needing to work closely with government in maintaining market access and also opening up new opportunities that we see.”

Mr Johnson said the showcase gives an insight into the technology coming into the industry that would evolve and systems would improve.

He said the government’s contribution would be to keep close customer countries engaged and modernising aging agreements, and industry would play a key role in helping do that.

“The way we get around the geopolitical environment is to have numerous options and numerous good relationships so we can trade our meat and trade it successfully.”

Lesson in China experience

Mr Tinning said the government is keen to ensure Australia had a diversity of markets during this “uncertain time” and he referred to the challenging time Australia has had in its trading relationship with China.

“It remains the case that certain commodities are blocked there, but we have collectively, particularly led by industry, been pretty successful in diversifying markets.”

He said China’s share in Australia’s exports has fallen from 29 percent to 20pc “in a growing pie” of record exports.

“And ASEAN as a whole is now a larger market than China, so I think that’s a good story.”

He said China will remain an important market and hopefully those disruptions will be lifted.

“Hopefully there is a lesson there to make sure we are not overly dependent on one market because geo-strategic uncertainties are not going away.”

Mr Tinning said the food security angst was playing out differently in different countries.

“Sometimes the way it is playing out is ultimately against the interest of both the country concerned and the globe.

“So putting up tariff barriers to try and grow a domestic food industry is not usually a good way of protecting your own food security or global food security, but that’s what’s happening in many countries,” he said.

“I think it is in our interests as an export nation to be telling the story of evidence globally that trade is good for food security, for everyone’s food security and co-operation is ultimately in everyone’s interests – so that’s certainly the story we’re telling.

“I think it would be really useful for industry to be talking with industry in other countries about these issues, because in some cases that can have greater influence than government-to-government discussions.”


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