Japan accord 'a bloody disgrace'

09 Apr, 2014 07:00 AM
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We are all told to sink or swim and we're paddling, but they seem to be tipping more water on us

RICE grower Chris Morshead says the Abbott government's trade deal agreed with Japan on Monday is "a bloody disgrace" that leaves the nation's 1500-odd rice farmers by the wayside.

The Coalition government has hailed the the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA) as the most significant advancement in Australia's relationship with Japan since the 1957 post-war pact. But Mr Morshead, 35, says rice growers have been left out.

"We are all told to sink or swim and we're paddling, but they seem to be tipping more water on us. We can't keep being traded off. We will certainly be reviewing our political allegiances going forward," he said. "It's an Australian-owned industry producing the world's highest quality rice. The Japanese can't get enough of our rice. They had the opportunity to remove the impediment to our product and we've been completely bloody ignored."

Mr Morshead is a third generation rice grower with 1000 hectares across two properties at Widgelli and Wumbalgal east of Griffith, in country NSW.

"All we wanted was some more quotas and an entry for some of our specialty products. A few in agriculture got a lot [from the FTA] and the rest of us got nothing. Where is the incentive for me to go and spend on farm and provide economic growth for the district when the government won't even give us a hand to get the world's best product out into the world," he said.

"Given the time frames that they are talking about for a review of it, my bloody kids will be farming before they get a chance to change it."

China now the focus

Australian rice growers have the capacity to produce more than 1 million tonnes of rice a year, worth around $800 million in revenue. Up to 80 per cent of the nation's rice is exported.

Ricegrowers' Association of Australia president Les Gordon slammed the deal and said rice growers deserve a good outcome in trade talks with China after being sidelined in the deals with Japan and South Korea.

"There's been no mention of rice, it's almost like a dirty word. The most important message is that we are looking for a better outcome with China," Mr Gordon said.

The Abbott government is claiming the JAEPA is a win for dairy farmers and sugar exporters, but industry bodies representing both groups are furious.

United Dairyfarmers of Victoria president Tyran Jones said the deal is "a complete miss" for dairy. "The concessions that have been made are on lower volume products, not on the high value, high volume products. The federal and state governments provide rhetoric about increasing food exports but they are completely failing to deliver on policy," he said.

Mr Jones is a third generation dairy farmer milking 500 cows in the Yarra Valley east of Melbourne. Japan is the most important export market for Australian dairy. Of the $511 million of dairy products exported to Japan every year farmers pay $116 million in tariffs.

$4.5m drop in the bucket

Mr Jones estimates the JAEPA will be worth about $4.5 million to dairy farmers in its first year and around $11.5 million a year by the end of the agreement, which he says is tiny given Australia exports $3 billion worth of dairy a year.

Australian Sugar Alliance chairman Paul Schembri said he is "extremely disappointed" the industry has not gained market access from the trade deal.

Since 1999 Australian sugar exports to Japan have plunged from 900,000 tonnes to 300,000 tonnes. "Agriculture has to be a part of comprehensive trade agreements. We rely on exports and we just have to have access to major markets on a competitive basis. We have to get the tone of these agreements right particularly in relation to the Trans-Pacific Partnership [negotiations]," he said adding that growers didn't want the JAEPA to become a template for the TPP.

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READER COMMENTS

cv
9/04/2014 7:17:30 AM

Not sure if anyone's bothered to read the fine print, but the Japanese negotiated a clause whereby their corporations can sue the Aust government if the government puts in place policies that the Japanese deem will hurt sales of their products, if they win, the tax payer pays the bill. We have essentially given up sovereignty in this FTA.

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