AUSTRALIA’S peak farmer body and the red meat sector today urged the Federal Government not to sign an Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement (A-EU FTA) unless it delivered increased market access.
Increased access above past quota levels is being sought for Australian beef, lamb, sugar, cheese and rice, and major sheep meat processor Roger Fletcher told Sheep Central in August that improved access for grain-fed beef and sheep meat were also issues at the negotiating table.
Sheep Central was told New Zealand received an increase of 38,000 tonnes for lamb exports in its EU FTA, but this was criticised as being inadequate and there is also concern about the EU position on geographical indicators for products and other punitive conditions that disadvantage Australian producers.
No deal for the sake of making a deal – Sheep Producers Australia
Australia’s peak Sheep Producers Australia said the industry is crying out for a level playing field on the EU bloc and it insisted the Australian Government must hold fast in securing significant increases in market access for Australian red meat imports.
SPA chief executive officer Bonnie Skinner said the EU represents the last remaining global sheep meat market with a huge potential value to Australia.
“Right now, we have incredibly low volume access to the EU compared to our regional competitors and we face very high tariffs – and this has been the case for about five decades,” Ms Skinner said.
“Negotiations towards solid trade reforms and a level playing field are vital for the future prosperity of our industry – so the government simply must maintain its stated objective of securing us significant increases in market access.”
Ms Skinner said she agreed that an EU deal should not be made just for the sake of making a deal this year.
“We have time for further negotiations – we don’t have to get this done now. EU parliamentary elections are not until mid-next year, so it’s simply not true that we have a limited window to get this deal done,” she said.
Ms Skinner said Australia’s sheep meat industry was focused on meeting EU customer demand for high quality products and she hoped the Australian Government would hold firm the face of negotiation tactics from the EU and ensure the current competitive disadvantage for Australia’s sheep meat sector was resolved.
NFF warns about ‘recent proposals’
The National Farmers Federation today warned that “recent proposals” would put Australian farmers at a disadvantage to commercial competitors like Canada, New Zealand and South America.
“The current proposal would lock Aussie farmers in at a disadvantage for the next half century.
“We want to see a good deal for everyone. But currently, we’re being asked to sit at the table and watch the EU have its cake and eat it too,” NFF president Fiona Simson said.
The National Farmers Federation is urging the Australian Government not to sign an impending trade deal with the European Union unless major improvements are put on the table for Aussie farmers. Preliminary negotiations are underway in Brussels this week ahead of a meeting on the sidelines of the G7 Trade Ministers’ meeting in Osaka next week.
Ms Simson said farmers were fearful of being sold out at the 11th hour.
“We have grave concerns that Minister Farrell is headed to Osaka with his signing pen at the ready.
“We’re yet to hear any indication that the EU is willing to put a commercially meaningful deal on the table,” she said.
“Everything we’ve seen so far would actually send parts of our sector backwards.
“We’ve never seen a proposed trade deal like it.”
The NFF urged Trade Minister Don Farrell to exercise patience and restraint, given the long term impacts of the deal.
“The message from Australian farmers is clear and united: if it’s a dud deal, keep the signing pen in your pocket.
“A photo op at the signing table lasts five minutes, but a dud deal will dictate our fortunes for a generation.”
The NFF also urged the Government not to be bullied into an EU-driven timeline for concluding a deal.
“We’re grateful to the Minister and officials who have been working hard on these negotiations.
“We appreciate their work, but we don’t want to agree a deal just because we’ve worked hard on it, or because the EU throws its weight around,” Ms Simson said.
“There’s no rush. We should only agree a deal if it’s the right deal.”
A-EU FTA negotiations must deliver for red meat
A Meat & Livestock Australia release for the Australia-EU Red Meat Market Access Taskforce said the Australian red meat industry is adamant the Australian Government maintain its stated objective of securing significant increases in market access for red meat.
With the EU holding firm on its highly restrictive quota position, Australian officials must also be resolute that there should be no deal for the sake of a deal – and importantly, no deal without addressing the red meat sector’s disproportionally low volume access, the release said.
Taskforce chairman Andrew McDonald said Australia’s case for seeking and securing significant trade reform is compelling.
“The EU is one of the world’s largest meat consumers and in order to service this demand, there is an ongoing import requirement.
“Australia’s trading relationship with the EU is based on shared values and is heavily focussed on meeting EU customer demand for high quality red meat products,” he said.
“However, our ability to service the market is severely limited due to the EU’s maintenance of outdated, inequitable and restrictive quotas and high tariffs.
“This access has been largely unaltered for nearly 50 years; but to make matters worse, it has actually been eroded while we’ve been negotiating the FTA.
“We’ve watched our competitors improve their access to the market and now we’re looking to ‘level the playing field’ – as the EU mantra consistently states.”
The taskforce said the current competitive disadvantage for Australian products must be addressed. The trade imbalance on meat products which favours the EU must be addressed. These negotiations are the precise, and potentially only, fora to achieve these imperatives, the taskforce said.
“Our industry is an ardent supporter of trade reform and we have worked very closely with the negotiating team and their EU counterparts to ensure our position is well known.
“These negotiations, while challenging, must get it right. Agreeing to a sub-optimal outcome will set back any reform to our trade framework to the EU for the foreseeable future and detrimentally impact our trade resilience and diversification for decades to come,” Mr McDonald said.
The taskforce said it agreed with Mr Farrell’s recent comment that: “if we can land a deal with the EU, it will deepen and diversify our trade, expand opportunities for Australian exporters and strengthen our supply chains.”
This is a direct reflection of the red meat industry’s position and now the Government needs to stand and deliver, the taskforce said.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity for our industry to improve our market access and we’re looking to Minister Farrell and his government to maintain the resolve, even if that takes the negotiations beyond an end October timeline,” Mr McDonald said.
We want the best deal – AMIC
The Australian Meat Industry Council said the Australian Government should keep negotiating unless the free trade agreement with the EU delivered meaningful access for Australian red meat processors and exporters without built-in barriers to trade.
AMIC said Australian meat quota holders and exporters to the EU have invested significantly over decades to establish their trade with the EU and developed important relationships with their European customers.
Despite this, the restrictive conditions such as outdated, inequitable, and restrictive quotas and high tariffs mean that the volumes traded are so small that most Europeans will not get the opportunity to eat Australian meat, AMIC said.
AMIC chief executive officer Patrick Hutchinson said the EU FTA is Australia’s one shot to correct a uniquely unfair system faced by Australian meat exporters, “and the government must make sure that it does not agree to a deal which locks in restricted access that effectively sends us backwards and doesn’t allow for future growth.”
“Any deal must improve the tariff and quota access, while also not establishing new restrictions and barriers to trade.
“Australia’s negotiators have worked hard for years to get to this point on the promise that ‘sensitive’ products such as meat will be negotiated in good faith at the 11th hour,” he said.
“Now we are there, this is a once in a generation opportunity that is too important to get wrong.
“The EU look set to get almost all their asks outlined at the start of the FTA, but it’s hard to see what’s being offered to Australia in return is fair, particularly for agriculture,” Mr Hutchinson said.
“Acceptance of a sub-par deal assists the EU in restricting its imports through a regulatory death by a thousand cuts and goes against the spirit of a ‘free’ trade agreement.”
“Our industry has been at the coal face for decades developing this market and if this deal falls short, it will put Australia’s red meat sector at a massive disadvantage for years to come,” he said.
“We don’t just want any deal; we want the best deal.”