FEDERAL Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce says he’s never been keen on personal consumption of Brussels sprouts but he’s thrilled by the 13,800 per cent increase in Australian exports of the small leafy-green vegetable to Korea.
Mr Joyce spoke to media yesterday ahead of a ministerial council meeting in Brisbane today, after returning from a trade mission to China, Korea and Japan following recent signings of Free Trade Agreements.
He also met with his Agricultural Industry Advisory Council yesterday to gather policy advice ahead of today's forum with State Agriculture and Water Ministers.
In seeking feedback from his Advisory Council, Mr Joyce said he asked representatives to tell him, "what would you do, if you were running the show in Canberra?" in relation to their specific sectors.
He also gave media a brief overview of how various farm products are performing in different export markets, following the FTA signings, along with a biased report card on agriculture’s progress, under the Coalition government.
“If you look at our report card for agriculture for the last couple of years it did a 9pc increase in the year 13-14, for the 12 months, and 7pc increase for the year 14-15 for 12 months,” he said.
“And this year’s first quarter we’ve seen a 12pc increase…compared to the first quarter last year.
“We are delivering back to Australia - we are getting the returns - and this is why if it’s our government, or any other government, we’ve got to make sure that agriculture is a key focus because it is vitally important to bring the dollars home for our nation.”
Mr Joyce said growing agricultural exports to markets like China, Korea and Japan helped provide additional revenue to balance the nation’s “books” and to help deal with the downturn in coal and iron ore mining exports.
He said some sections of agriculture were performing exceptionally well, with record prices for beef and sheep meat, stronger wool prices and growing exports of horticultural products to markets like China where salmon had also experienced a 4600pc increase in sales volume.
Mr Joyce said grape exports to China had increased over 1600pc for the year and “off the radar” products, like Brussels sprouts – which he was “never keen on them to be honest” - had undergone a 13,800pc increase in one year, to Korea.
Assistant Trade and Investment Minister Richard Colbeck has also marvelled at the good news story of Australian exports of Brussels sprouts to South Korea.
He said the tariff was reduced from 27pc to 19.2pc under the new FTA and further cuts would eliminate it completely by 2020.
Senator Colbeck said under KAFTA, exports of Brussels sprouts had increased to more than 181 tonnes between December 2014 and August 2015, up from less than 3/t in the same period the year before; making Korea the nation’s largest export market.
Mr Joyce also cited “astronomical” export increases of about 3000pc in chickpeas to Korea and 13,800pc increase in poultry sales to Japan along with a 777pc increase for tomatoes and 256pc increase in almond sales into the same market; all in the past year.
“Whether it’s China, whether it’s Korea or whether it’s Japan we’re doing the business and actually making sure that we sell more of this product and this means a better return through the farm gate for Australian farmers – we don’t rest on our laurels,” he said.
On Wednesday, Treasurer Scott Morrison also spoke about the increasing need for economic diversification and agriculture’s role, when addressing an economic summit in Sydney and referring to trade opportunities with China and India.
Mr Morrison said in the next 15 years China and India would together be home to over two billion new middle class consumers.
He said China’s middle class was projected to increase from around 12pc of the population in 2009 to 70pc by 2030.
“As the Chinese people grow wealthier, we have a new opportunity to broaden the range of goods and services we provide,” he said.
“With rising incomes comes increased demand for high quality meat and produce, creating opportunities for our farmers to capitalise on a growing market.”
Mr Joyce said he believed export sales figures for Australian agriculture would not grow exponentially forever but “it’s certainly growing at a rate of knots”.
He attributed that growth to several factors with the first and foremost being more people living to the north of Australia in Asia with greater expendable income, accompanied by higher dietary and fibre requirements.
“They want to eat better food and wear better clothes and they want to it to be delivered reliably,” he said.
Mr Joyce said a consistent inquiry and message during his trade missions to key export markets was not whether they wanted to buy Australian food exports but whether our nation could provide those markets with reliable supply.
“This Asian economy we are part of has huge demand for soft commodities especially proteins like beef and sheep meats, almonds, chickpeas and therefore we have a great investment horizon,” he said.
Mr Joyce said the “massive” increase in export sales volumes had also extended to prices which could be best measured activity at saleyards in areas like cattle, citrus and even wine.
He also spoke about the need to advance the sector’s R&D investment to improve innovation and product to market outcomes from the $700m already being spent across all portfolios in the agricultural sector.
“We have to be at the forefront of genetics; we have to be at the forefront of genetic modification; we have to be at the forefront of making sure we get the best return from our usage of water; and we have to be at the forefront of how we market this product because although we are doing extremely well, it will not be a case that we don’t end up with competition,” he said.
“I’m absolutely certain the Brazilians and the Argentinians and other people are watching very closely how Australian is going and working out how they can also come into these markets and push us out.”