AUSTRALIA is not the food bowl of Asia, nor should it claim to be, says Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.
He said our farmers now fed 60 million people in Asia and while the potential existed to double that figure, there were four billion consumers in the region. "We're not going to be the food basket of Asia. We've got to dispense with that rhetoric, it is ridiculous. It is read as a threat overseas," he told Sky News on Sunday.
Mr Joyce said the smart money, citing recent investments in the industry by Gina Rinehart, Chris Corrigan and Andrew Forrest, was focused on developing a premium product for a premium price.
"Even in China, their beef herd is about eight times the size of ours.
"What we do have is a premium product and with the right supply chains, premium product gets a premium price. I'm saying it is a food bowl but it's not a food bowl that is going to be feeding Asia."
National Farmers' Federation president Brent Finlay said the minister's view was realistic.
"He's being a realist. When you look at the size of Asia, with four billion people, you can't pretend we're going to be the major supplier of food to Asia. In that context, his comments are right.
Trade minister Andrew Robb is an optimist, saying last week that while "we may not become the food bowl of Asia... we can become a key supplier, one of several food bowls, if you like"
Mr Finlay said: "We have a number of key markets around the world that we supply. We have very good customers and Indonesia is one of those, certainly Japan and Korea". He also said the free trade deal with China "has the potential to define agriculture in Australia for the next 20 years."
The Abbott government is due to release a green paper with strategies to boost the agricultural industry and take advantage of opportunities in the region within two weeks.
And Mr Joyce said there were significant opportunities to boost agriculture exports to south-east Asia.
He is studying the New Zealand 100% Pure brand campaign and has been talking to state ministers about bringing Australian produce under a similar umbrella brand.
"If we all go off as rats and mice here, there and everywhere, then we won't have a consistent approach," he said.
Mr Forrest said last week Australian agricultural business needed to market itself as one brand to be internationally competitive. The Fortescue chairman's Australia-Sino Hundred-Year Agricultural and Food Partnership met in Sydney last week and will meet again before the G20 summit in Brisbane.
- with AAP