Australia’s largest organisation representing fruit growers has called on the government to finalize the free trade agreement (FTA) with China as soon as possible, amid what it sees as ‘wavering commitment’ to the deal.
Voice of Horticulture (VOH) said support for the FTA was crucial for growth in horticulture, especially for job growth in Australia.
“To not support the FTAs, and in particular the China FTA, is effectively limiting employment growth, and the huge export potential of Australian horticulture,” VOH chair Tania Chapman said in a release.
In early August, local media The Australian reported the FTA was in serious jeopardy with the Labor Party insisting on major changes that give more protections to Australian jobs.
Horticulture is Australia’s third-largest agricultural sector with a Gross Value of Production of AUD$10 billion (US$7.1 billion) annually, and is also the largest employer in agriculture with over 60,000 employed.
“An important strategy to grow this employment is to export our produce overseas, because there is a huge opportunity there that extends us beyond our relatively small domestic market,” Tania said.
“We have made some progress in recent years with citrus, almonds, table grapes etc., but trade barriers and protocols limit our growth.”
She added recent FTAs with Japan and South Korea could be ‘real drivers’ for horticultural growth.
“This growth will require more skilled workers on farms and in packing sheds, transport, logistics, and on-farm quality control,” Tania said.
“It will also require more staff in export businesses both in Australia and in the destination countries to undertake promotions, sales and quality control.”
The VOH chair went on to say Australian horticulture had the potential to grow many times over with the increasing demand for the country’s ‘green’ and safe agriculture produce, but this could only be achieved in major Asian markets with FTAs that break down trade barriers.
“Not only will the FTAs encourage exports and enable substantial growth in the sector, but also remove excess production from the domestic market, helping growers get a fair price for their produce by making the sector more competitive,” Tania said.
“FTAs would therefore provide substantial benefits to the 30,000 plus horticultural enterprises in Australia regardless of whether they have the opportunity to export of not.”