THE peak representative body for Australia’s sugarcane farmers, CANEGROWERS has joined the National Farmers’ Federation in urging the Federal Government to step away from free trade negotiations with the European Union rather than sign a bad deal for Australian farmers.
Federal Trade Minister Don Farrell will meet with his EU counterpart in Japan later this week to discuss and possibly even agree to a free trade deal.
However, there appears to be little of value to agriculture on the table, with CANEGROWERS Chairman Owen Menkens warning that the current proposal could leave Australian farmers “disadvantaged for at least a generation”.
“We haven’t seen a final offer from the Europeans, but if whispers out of Canberra are to be believed, meaningful tariff-free access for agricultural produce is a long way off,” Mr Menkens said.
According to recent media reports, the tariff-free sugar quota being offered by the EU does not provide commercially meaningful access for Australian exporters.
“Contrast this with the recently signed AUS-UK Free Trade Agreement and the difference couldn’t be more apparent,” Mr Menkens said.
“The Australian Government was successful in negotiating a deal with the UK that provided tariff free access for 80,000 tonnes of sugar in the first year, increasing by 20,000 tonnes per year for eight years, at which time all quotas and tariffs on Australian sugar would be lifted.
“The EU needs sugar. They regularly import two million tonnes of raw sugar per year to meet their domestic demand and European sugar refiners are crying out for access to the type of high quality, sustainably produced sugar we produce here in Australia.
“However, the EU seems unwilling to offer meaningful access that would benefit both the Australian and the European economies.”
While distance may mean that Europe may never be a major market, Mr Menkes believes it could most definitely be a premium market for Australian sugar, with our high-quality and reliable supply justifying a premium price.
“Our position is consistent with the National Farmers’ Federation and all other agricultural industries. If the offer on the table does not improve, the Australian Government should step away from negotiations and continue discussions at another time,” he said.
“Rather than making a deal for the sake of expedience, we should continue discussions and get a better outcome – delay is better than being saddled with a bad deal.
“Trade Minister Farrell and the Australian negotiators have been working night and day on this agreement, and they have consulted with industry and been strong as they look for the right outcome for Australia.
“CANEGROWERS will continue to work with the government on this issue, as we have done for the past five years, but now is not the time to agree to a deal that Europe wants but actually sends Australian agricultural exports backwards.”